Fetal DNA, the MMR Vaccine, and Paths Not Taken

Fetal DNA, the MMR Vaccine, and Paths Not Taken September 26, 2019

Lately, I’ve been reading a lot about the anti-vaxxing movement. Bills in several states have eliminated non-medical exemptions and cracked down on fraudulent medical exemptions, leaving parents with a choice: vaccinate your children, or homeschool. So now there are articles coming out about unvaccinated children who are being forced to leave school, because of their parents’ medical decisions.

Have a look at this one, for instance:

Grace Russo is 14 and was excited about starting her freshman year at L.A. Webber Middle-High School in Lyndonville.

“I look forward to things in school like sports, homecoming,” she said.

I feel for Grace. She is suffering for a decision her mother made—and is continuing to make. She wants to go to school, and her mother’s choices are barring her from doing so. What a difficult situation to find oneself in.

Why doesn’t Grace’s mom get her vaccinated?

I must have missed that part of the Bible. What do vaccine ingredients have to do with living by God? Doesn’t the Bible say to obey the laws of the governing authority? I swear I read that in there somewhere.

More seriously, this article from Christianity Today likely points to the sticking point:

For certain Christians, the decision of whether to vaccinate comes down to the origins of the vaccines themselves. Some pro-life parents cite a moral disgust and a deep lament over the use of 58-year-old aborted fetal cell lines in development for several recommended immunizations, including MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) and chickenpox.

As explained by the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia:

The fetal embryo fibroblast cells used to grow vaccine viruses were first obtained from elective termination of two pregnancies in the early 1960s. These same embryonic cells obtained from the early 1960s have continued to grow in the laboratory and are used to make vaccines today. No further sources of fetal cells are needed to make these vaccines.

In other words, yes, the scientists who developed the MMR vaccine grew the virus in fetal cells obtained from two elective abortions in the early 1960s. Scientists continue to use cells from these same fetal lines to produce the vaccine today.

Here’s what confuses me.

People are allowed to donate organs. Parents can even donate their children’s organs. We typically see this as a good thing. Just the other day, I saw an article about a high school football player who collapsed on the field and was later declared brain dead. When his parents removed life support, they told reporters that doctors had told them that their son’s organs would save seven lives. We see this as heroic, and life-saving.

Those two abortions were not performed to obtain fetal tissues for vaccines. They were elective abortions that would have been performed regardless of scientists’ interest in using fetal cells—which have divided fewer times and are thus more flexible—for developing vaccines. I understand that abortion opponents see those two abortions as murder. But you know what? When a child or an adult is murdered, their organs can still be donated. In fact, if a child dies as the result of child abuse, it’s likely still the child’s parent who determines whether the child’s organs can be donated.

If the child is dead either way, why not donate their organs? How is using fetal stem cell lines from two abortions that had already occurred—and would have occurred regardless—an ethical dilemma, especially when these cells have saved so many lives?

I’ve heard some suggest that vaccines contain residual fetal DNA. Even if that is the case, why would that be so different from cases where someone receives a heart transplant, or a kidney transplant? Those cells’ DNA does not change before (or after) the organs are transplanted into the recipient. Or what about a blood transfusion? It’s not as though we never inject materials that contain one person’s DNA into another person.

We don’t have problems with blood donations, or with organ donations, even in cases where people are murdered. We don’t have issues with blood transfusions (well, except for Jehovah’s Witnesses), and while organ transplants are rare, we don’t typically have an issue with those either. Yes, those fetuses didn’t consent to become donors, but then, we don’t typically ask children who die of either nefarious or natural causes for their consent to become organ donors either.

Abortion opponents don’t seem to believe their assertions that fetuses are people and that abortion is murder. If they did, they’d want the women and/0r abortion doctors involved in those 1962 elective abortions prosecuted, but they wouldn’t have an issue with donated tissue from those two fetuses saving millions of lives.

If I had to guess, I’d suggest that there’s an “ickyness” factor associated with fetuses at play here. Those fetuses aren’t really being viewed as people, and those abortions aren’t really being viewed as murders. If abortion opponents did view fetuses as people and abortion as murder, they’d be celebrating the lifesaving power that grew out of the senseless tragedies of those two early deaths, rather than urging everyone they know to avoid vaccines like the dickens because there is fetal DNA in there.

Abortion opponents could use this story to personalize fetuses and champion their cause. They could name the two fetuses whose cells were used to develop the MMR vaccines—say, Karen and Steve—and create pictures of what they would have looked like when they’d grown up. They could hold up these two murdered children—in their view—as heroes.

Two murdered children have saved millions of lives across the globe. Isn’t it time we stood up for them, too? #abolishabortion

Karen and Steve saved one million lives this year, but they never saw their first birthdays. How many lives will you save? #abolishabortion

Two aborted fetuses have saved twenty million lives. How many fetuses will you save from abortion? #abolishabortion

Damn, that got real. I sometimes think I’d be better at writing anti-abortion propaganda than actual abortion opponents are.

As a reason for being an anti-vaxxer, the use of fetal tissue donation in developing the MMR vaccine makes no sense. To the extent that it plays a role, it suggests that abortion opponents do not really see fetuses as people. Instead, they see them as something icky, something other than, something to be avoided. I’m not entirely sure what we can learn from that, but it’s fascinating nonetheless.

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