In recent days, several vaccines for COVID have reached the final approval process. The USCCB indicated that Catholics can morally take the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines. At least 28 other US bishops have issued concurring statements.
There is a concern about remote material cooperation in evil. The USCCB notes it in their statement. However, some have thought this so grave that Catholics should not get vaccinated.
Receiving these vaccines is so remote that in our everyday lives we do things that are more proximate cooperation in evil. At a certain degree of remoteness, cooperation in evil is unavoidable living in modern society. I will point out first how remote this is in the case of COVID vaccination, then 12 other things that are less remote. On top of these being less remote, the proportionate good of these is less than a vaccine; vaccination in the abstract is a great good for you and others.
The Remoteness of Moderna and Pfizer Vaccines
In 1973, a baby died three months into the mother’s pregnancy, either by abortion or miscarriage. (If it was by miscarriage and the mother consented to donate part of her child’s body to medicine, there is no evil to be cooperated in.) Some kidney cells were grown in the lab and became known by the scientific name HEK293. The cells of that dead baby are now gone but the descendant cells are still cultivated. These cells have been used for hundreds of experiments. Some testing of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are included in those hundreds of experiments.
In speaking of this remoteness, we need to look at the steps removed. First, the abortion or miscarriage was not done for the cell line, but was happening anyways. Second, the cells were not created for this experiment but already existed. Third, this was a test of the vaccine not the production of the vaccine. Fourth, in one test done by each company, the test didn’t even use HEK293 directly but used mice descendant from a mouse edited with HEK293 to produce human rather than mouse lung-lining proteins. So, yet another step removed.
Appropriation vs. cooperation
On top of this, it is important to note what cooperation entails. Cooperation means we in some small way contributed to an otherwise preventable act. If a man delivers beer, he has remote material cooperation in the drunkenness of those who drink the beer he delivered.
Appropriation is similar to cooperation and often is cooperation but is not necessarily so. Appropriation is where you take some good from some prior already completed evil act. This is cooperation if it contributes to the continuation of that act. For example, if I buy something made by slave labor in Africa, it’s appropriation but also cooperation as they are more likely to keep using slave labor to make that. However, if I take data from scientific studies done by Nazis, it can be appropriation without cooperation. For example, Trent Horn mentioned that they did experiments in death camps about hypothermia that can’t ethically be repeated. However, that data provides info we can’t get other ways. We can appropriate that data without even cooperating, as nothing about taking that data would encourage anyone to freeze someone to death again.
In the triply or quadruply remote steps above, we need to ask if any are appropriation without cooperation.
Some would argue that the use of fetal cell lines is only appropriation, not cooperation as this does not contribute to another abortion. However, I do think it might contribute to taking more cells from an aborted fetus. Some argue that such cell lines are immortal. They reproduce a long time but are not quite immortal. In fact, in 2015 new cells were taken from another fetus to start Walvax-2 where the fetus and cell type were chosen to imitate MRC-5. MRC-5 is an existing cell line used in some other vaccines. The new line was similar but reproduced more quickly. I suspect if MRC-5 had fallen out of favor before then, Walvax-2 would never have been created. This is a very remote connection to taking a few cells from a single source. Thus, not a big moral issue, but not without the issue of cooperation.
On the other hand, we need to ask if a test done using HEK293 as in the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines is appropriation with or without cooperation. The big question here is whether this test is done once or repeated for quality control in manufacturing. It would be cooperation in the continuation of this cell line if the cell line was continually used in repeated tests.
Jesus said to pay Roman taxes (Matthew 22:21). Roman taxes were more proximate participation in evil than these vaccines.
12 Cases of More Proximate Cooperation in Evil
All of these are less remote than any cooperation in evil done by getting these mRNA vaccines. They are all generally for a lesser good than protection from COVID.
These are not pleasant to read as they are peeling back how the sausage is made.
Buy Energizer Batteries, Heinz Ketchup, Doritos, Lays, or similar.
All of these products are made by companies that support Planned Parenthood directly with financial donations. Heinz sells 650 million bottles of ketchup a year. If 1/100th of a cent from each bottle was donated to Planned Parenthood, that would fund 217 abortions annually in the USA ($300 per abortion). Other companies are similar.
Unless you specifically know your diamond was sourced from an ethical mine there is a good chance it was not. After the movie Blood Diamond pointed out how many diamonds were mined to fund warlords, some changes came, but they were limited as Time reported in 2014:
In 2003 the diamond industry established the Kimberley Process, an international certification system designed to reassure consumers that the diamonds they bought were conflict-free. But more than 10 years later, while the process did reduce the number of conflict diamonds on the market, it remains riddled with loopholes, unable to stop many diamonds mined in war zones or under other egregious circumstances from being sold in international markets.
The 2020 US Department of Labor’s report on forced labor and child labor indicated 6 countries still used one or both in diamond mining. Child labor and forced labor are forms of slavery and often involve beating and or working these people to death. Human Rights Watch ranks jewelers on their commitment to ensuring ethically sourced diamonds and no large chain achieves “Excellent.”
Chiquita and Dole who provide most Bananas are involved in many unethical things to get those bananas to our table. Chiquita was found guilty of funding terrorist organizations to protect its bananas in 2007. Dole used a chemical on its bananas that it knew would sterilize the workers, then only compensated half of them. Both regularly work adults and children 12 hours a day and threaten workers. The same report from the Department of Labor indicated 5 countries have child labor to get bananas.
Use 99% of mobile devices.
The vast majority of mobile devices use lithium and cobalt in their batteries. These are hard to come by and are generally mined unscrupulously in poor countries. The Washington Post did a long report on cobalt mining in the DRC. They estimate 40,000 children work in the mines. One person had personally pulled out 36 dead miners, another reported 4 died from unusual birth defects in their small town as a side effect of this cobalt mining. The DRC provides the majority of the world’s cobalt and several companies like Apple admitted this unethically mined metal got into their electronic products.
Buy anything made in China.
Anything made in China helps fund the Chinese government through taxes and through the requirement that all manufacturing must either be a Chinese company or a joint venture with a Chinese company. In a country like China, the government controls every company. But all of this helps fund repression in Hong Kong, imprisonment and genocide of Uyghurs, and all the other Chinese human rights abuses.
Many of these manufacturing plants have serious issues in how they treat workers too, such as the iPhone factory with nets to prevent suicides.
Watch the live-action Mulan.
I want to make a particular case of this among Chinese products as the credits specifically thank the same organization in the government responsible for the Uyghur genocide: the public security bureau in the city of Turpan.
The 2020 US Department of Labor’s report on forced labor and child labor indicated 17 countries used children or forced labor to produce coffee. They even have a subsection on coffee that makes one wonder if even the non-slave, non-child labor is just. They state, “Coffee is a risky business. Many coffee workers, often from marginalized populations, are paid on a piecework basis and face sub-minimum wages and excessive working hours. Hazardous conditions are commonplace.”
Use Google, Bing, Siri, or any mainstream online search.
Every one of these also easily links to pornography if you search it. None have made any serious effort to remove pornography as a searchable item. There is a Russian language search engine maintained by Orthodox believers that redirects inappropriate sexual searches to information on the 6th Commandment, but I know of no such search engine in English. (Honestly, this would be a good idea if someone wants to make it – I’d definitely support it.)
Use Wells Fargo, JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, American Express or many major insurers.
These are similar to the Energizer Batteries, Heinz, etc. above in that these companies donate money directly to Planned Parenthood.
There are a bunch of other companies – such as CVS, Walgreens, Walmart, Rite Aid, and Safeway – that donate money indirectly to Planned Parenthood through things like United Way. These are also more proximate cooperation in abortion than these vaccines but it is not as evident as those who donate directly.
Just a few months ago, Facebook showed discrimination against a factual pro-life ad. Facebook also regularly did not respect users’ privacy. In Illinois alone, they had to pay out $650 million. Facebook needs to remove some content but then provides a rather horrendous workplace for those who need to clean out offensive, pornographic or excessively violent posts. These people are paid very little to watch the vilest content in repetition with insufficient support for such trauma in the workplace. This workplace also suffers from the “illusory truth effect” where such reviewers are lead towards dangerous and immoral ideologies by seeing them over and over again. (The “illusory truth effect” is the reality that humans tend to believe something is true if they see it repeated whether it is true or not.) Oh, and they also support Planned Parenthood.
The US federal government does a lot of highly immoral stuff around the world like CIA black sites. It also offers protection to other countries. For example, right now Saudi Arabia has guaranteed US protection and receives military supplies from the USA. Then it uses that protection and materials to commit war crimes in the Yemeni civil war.
Pretty much everything involved in alcohol production and distribution.
Some use alcohol to get drunk. When drunk, people often create car accidents or become abusive to those around them. All of us creating a pipeline to enjoy a few beers on the weekend are also creating a pipeline that provides others to get drunk.
I could go on as there are so many other things that involve very remote material cooperation in evil in our lives. However, I think those 12 is a good sample of how prevalent this is. It is basically impossible to completely avoid. This leaves us with two options:
- Realize that some very remote cooperation in evil is inevitable. Try to avoid it when I can but not worry much when I can’t.
- Go and become a subsistence farmer and hermit. Even contemplative religious communities, however, can’t check the sourcing of every product they use.
One could even debate if this latter option is an option for a Catholic. In 1690, the Holy Office condemned various errors of the Jansenists. “It is not licit to follow the [probable] opinion, even the most probable among the probable ones” (DH 2302) was one of the condemned propositions. This was condemning the belief that one had to be 100% certain of the right moral act in circumstances where any doubt arose. It may apply to the rigorist interpretation allowing no cooperation in evil, even very remote cooperation.
Some have tried to propose a third option, but it is not tenable. If we apply the standard of no participation even in a triply remote material way when considering vaccines, then something approaching that must be applied to other areas of life. One definitely cannot apply this to skip a very important good like health, then not apply it to get a more minor good like ketchup flavoring your food or a movie to relax.
In conclusion, we should try to avoid remote cooperation in evil if we can. We should make a special effort in remote cooperation that is just barely remote. However, when we have things multiple extended steps removed from the evil it is impossible to avoid the evil. The mRNA vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna are so remotely connected with evil as to pose no serious moral issue for Catholics. We can – and in most cases should – get vaccinated when there is no serious moral issue.
Update: I wrote a further piece pointing out how almost every major pharmaceutical has been tested on HEK293 cells.
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- DH refers to Heinrich Denzinger & Peter Hünermann, Enchiridion Symbolorum: A Compendium of Creeds, Definitions, and Declarations of the Catholic Church. This is the standard reference work for historical magisterial declarations and is cited by paragraph.