While the should know better, many Catholics are incapable of engaging moral arguments because they have not been taught, or they reject, basic moral qualifications and categories which must be used in order to make a proper moral claim. This has become a serious problem as many Catholics, especially in engaging political or social questions, reduce everything to an overly-simplified position without any nuance. They think if they can say a particular act is wrong, from an objective standpoint, then the moral culpability will be the same for all who engage that act, but in reality, subjective conditions affect that culpability. Likewise, they think that if they can raise questions about the prudence of a particular act, that is enough to justify rejecting it. Thus, many Catholics, including bishops, can be seen fighting against various medical practices and procedures which Catholic moral reasoning permits.
It is because of this problem we find many Catholics, whey they are told that they should be vaccinated against COVID19, respond by saying that they think it would be a sin to do so; they say such vaccines are produced through immoral means, and so we cannot use them as it would mean we would be cooperating with evil. They believe misinformation concerning the way the vaccine was developed, and they repeat what they have been told, using it to justify their resistance to being vaccinated. Even if, however, they were correct, even if the vaccines were produced through immoral means, the Vatican has already indicated that use of such a vaccine would be permissible, for the pandemic gives us the proportionate reasoning we need to accept such remote material cooperation with evil.
When we examine what happens with our lives, we will find that we cannot avoid remote material cooperation with evil: buying groceries at the grocery store cooperates with various evils, even as does buying clothing from the store, or paying tolls on a toll road. For example, people who work at the grocery store get paid by the money spent there, and among those who are paid, there will be those who use the money for some evil purpose. Clothing manufacturing often uses and abuses its workers to varying degrees. Toll roads are used by people who travel on them to do some evil such as to traffic drugs or kill someone. In each situation, with each of the evils suggested or others which could be mentioned, money would ultimately connect with some evil, but as it was not intended, nor supported, by the person who spent the money, what they did would not be what must be always rejected, that is, formal cooperation with evil. Formal cooperation directly supports and intends for the evil to happen, while material cooperation does not have such intention; remote material cooperation does not directly lead to the evil, though it aids it in some fashion – such as making sure there was a road to use so that one can travel to and kill one’s rival. When there are good, proportionate reasons for material cooperation with evil, it can be permitted. Thus, we can pay support the construction of a road, since is necessary for the good of society and its main purpose and intent is not for the promotion of any such evil.
Those who say we cannot use unethically produced vaccines tend to confuse remote material cooperation with evil with formal cooperation with evil. They equivocate the two because “cooperation with evil” is discussed in both instances. “You can’t cooperate with evil,” they say, without realizing the reality of the world is that our actions connect us with each other and indirectly help others do what they should not do. The only way we can have no cooperation with evil in our lives is to die, but even then, some could find a way to use our corpse for evil if they wanted to do so. Those, however, who want to reinforce the equivocation and say no one can use a vaccine which was developed unethically, such as through cell lines established from an aborted fetus, must end up denying much of modern science, which often developed its insights through immoral means. Will they give up the medicines and medical knowledge gained through experimentation on the Jews in concentration camps? Or from experiments on African Americans? Or Native Americans? The evil which has been done, has been done. We cannot stop it. Using what has been gained from it does not mean we support the evil, any more than buying groceries means we support all that happens in the production of our food.
What about organ donations? Should they be allowed? Should people be free to receive them? While many people willingly donate their organs so that when they die, they can help others live, and some donate while alive (such as those who give up a kidney), the sad fact is that many organs come from those who have been imprisoned and had their organs unwillingly harvested from them. Organ trafficking is big business, and with it, there are many unethical ways in which organs are harvested and find their way to hospitals. And, what might surprise many, homicide victims often are a source for organs. Many lives have been saved thanks to organ donation. However, because of the way some organs have been unethically harvested, should we put a stop to the practice and tell those in need an organ that they must die because we do not want to have any cooperation with evil? Are those who receive organs from murder victims guilty of the murder, even if they did not know where the organs came from? Just as it does with vaccines, the Vatican has consistently argued the need for ethical guidelines in regards the donation of organs, but also promotes its use, seeing the good which is done by the practice. People show their love for others by trying to help save the life of others even in and through their own death. In this fashion, the Catechism states:
Organ transplants are in conformity with the moral law if the physical and psychological dangers and risks to the donor are proportionate to the good sought for the recipient. Organ donation after death is a noble and meritorious act and is to be encouraged as a expression of generous solidarity. It is not morally acceptable if the donor or his proxy has not given explicit consent. Moreover, it is not morally admissible to bring about the disabling mutilation or death of a human being, even in order to delay the death of other persons.
Pope St. John Paul II saw promoting organ donation as a way to help us consider the value and dignity of all life:
It is in this context, so humanly rich and filled with love, that heroic actions too are born. These are the most solemn celebration of the Gospel of life, for they proclaim it by the total gift of self. They are the radiant manifestation of the highest degree of love, which is to give one’s life for the person loved (cf. Jn 15:13). They are a sharing in the mystery of the Cross, in which Jesus reveals the value of every person, and how life attains its fullness in the sincere gift of self. Over and above such outstanding moments, there is an everyday heroism, made up of gestures of sharing, big or small, which build up an authentic culture of life. A particularly praiseworthy example of such gestures is the donation of organs, performed in an ethically acceptable manner, with a view to offering a chance of health and even of life itself to the sick who sometimes have no other hope.
Pope Francis indicated that when we promote organ donation, we begin to think about the way we can come together as a community and work together for the common:
Organ donation responds to a social necessity because, notwithstanding the development of many medical treatments, the need for organs is still great. However, the significance of the donation for the donor, for the recipient and for society is never exhausted in its “utility”, as it relates to profound human experiences filled with love and altruism. Donation means looking and going beyond oneself, beyond individual needs, and generously opening oneself to a broader good. In this perspective, organ donation is proposed not only as an act of social responsibility, but as the expression of universal fraternity that binds all men and women.
So many of those who object to the use of vaccines, due to the way they misconceive they have been developed, should reject much, if not, most of the advances found in modern medicine (many of which truly came from evil means). If remote material cooperation with evil is the same as formal cooperation with evil, then the medical industry itself is evil and must be squashed. Even life-saving operations must be stopped because they are tainted with their connection to some form of evil: heart transplants must stopped because some hearts are unethically harvested, which would make the whole practice evil. Those whose lives are being saved by various medicine, such as insulin or heart medication, must be told that they are contributing to an evil industry and the only way forward is to get off their medicine, suffer and die. This, of course, is absurd, and would be truly evil. But this is the absurdity and evil which lies behind the anti-vaccine commentary. It is inconsistent. It is based upon lies. And if followed, would lead to grave consequences as multitudes would perish for the sake of their ideology. Thankfully, proper moral qualifications and reasoning demonstrates why we can partake of medicine, just as we can partake of other aspects of society. The world is interdependent. We cannot avoid material cooperation with evil.
Catholics must embrace their moral tradition. It is vital that proper ethical categories and basic elements of moral theology are taught, both in catechism classes, but also in sermons which address moral issues raised by Scripture. Until we do so, many Catholics will listen to and heed moral declarations which are far from Catholic teaching and would lead them to do evil in the name of the good.
 Obviously, the Vatican wants vaccines to be made as ethically as possible, but the question is of the use of vaccines which have been developed, with the answer being given is that with the seriousness of COVID19, even unethically produced vaccines could be used, if such a vaccine existed.
 Pope Francis, “Address to the Italian Association for the Donation of Organs, Tissues, and Cells” (4-13-2019).
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