Ethical quandary in coronavirus vaccine development

ethical quandry

Human foetal tissue used in a potential coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine is posing an ethical quandry for Australia’s Greek Orthodox, Catholic and Anglican leaders.

The Oxford University vaccine has been developed from a kidney cell line (HEK-293) taken from a foetus aborted in 1973.

The Australian government has ordered 25 million doses of the vaccine. If trials prove successful, it will be offered free to all Australians.

However, in a letter sent to Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Australia’s Greek Orthodox Archbishop Makarios, Catholic Archbishop Anthony Fisher and Anglican Archbishop Glenn Davies set out their objections to the vaccine claiming ethical concerns.

They told Morrison the use of foetal cells creates “an ethical quandary” and is “deeply immoral.”

“Others may regard the use of a cell-line derived from an abortion performed back in the 1970s as now sufficiently removed from the abortion itself to be excusable.”

“(But) those troubled by this may either acquiesce to the social and political pressure to use the vaccine or conscientiously object to the use by themselves or their dependents.”

However, Australian National University researcher Gaetan Burgio is defending the use of cell lines from elective abortions, saying this practice has been part of a standard scientific process for more than 50 years.

“This cell line has been used to develop vaccines, for gene therapy and for research applications, as well. This is the most common cell line used in laboratories in the world,” he says.

Australia’s deputy chief medical officer says he is aware of the concerns and assured the public there were strong regulations around the use of human cells.

“The reality for the vaccines is that they need cell cultures in order for us to grow them,” he said. “Human cells are a really important part of their development.”

Fisher clarified the religious leaders are not “anti-vax”.

“Please be assured that our churches are not opposed to vaccination, as we have said, we are praying that one may be found. But we also pray that it be one that is not ethically tainted.”

A spokesperson for the Prime Minister also acknowledged the concerns, saying the government was investing in alternative vaccines that do not contain foetal cell lines. Among those is a vaccine being developed by the University of Queensland.

“The government will always follow the medical advice and will be encouraging as widespread use of the vaccine or vaccines as is possible,” the spokesperson says.


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