This is the second in a three-part series analyzing Fr. Chad Ripperger on COVID-19 vaccines. If you have not read the first one, it might be good to review it. I base these posts on a podcast interview on Sensus Fidelium where he lays out bad information repeatedly. This post will focus on the argument that vaccines using fetal cell lines in production or testing are committing a “continual theft” and are thus proximate, or barely remote, cooperation in evil. I have clearly pointed out otherwise in-depth twice before. In the end, we will also cover some misinformation about COVID-19.
The Argument That Vaccines Continual Theft
13:38: Fr. Ripperger wants to address “The quality in relationship to the vaccination.” He refers to it as “Quibus auxiliis,” by what aid.
14:07: He specifically refers to a vaccine “which contains something that could be morally compromised.”
14:30: His big question: “Is the vaccination carrying the moral quality of the abortion in relationship to the vaccination itself? That’s the real issue.” It is an important question but not quite the right question as a better question is whether the quality is proximate, barely remote, or extremely remote?
15:29: He refers to “the circumstance of quid or what.” He describes it as “a quality that the object undergoes the action.” This would be like stealing a small amount is venial but from a beggar makes it mortal.
16:51: “Injecting the content of the vaccination… [which] can have moral qualities attached to it… This means that those that contain the DNA of the child… therefore it takes on the character of the DNA that came from that child and how that DNA was obtained.”
19:58: He cites Fr Michael Copenhagen:
An assessment of cooperation with evil in terms of distance from the original abortion is a necessary but ultimately insufficient criterion because there is another distinct and more immediate category of sin involved… The recipient is an immediate participant in the commission of continuous theft of human remains obtained through deliberate killing, their desecration through exploitation and trafficking, as well as ultimate omission to respectfully bury them.
I already dealt with Fr. Michael a few months back and could not find a source beyond the same link he cites. Fr. Ripperger wonders if Fr. Michael got this from him so I guess there are at least two priests who hold this view.
Why Vaccines Aren’t Continual Theft
However, I think this view of continual theft has several issues.
First, theft is the taking of something that is not justly yours. An ongoing theft would only make sense if cells were constantly being taken from this baby. They are not. They were taken once in the 1960s or 70s, then those cells were modified genetically to become immortalized where they will continually keep multiplying. That person now is just a soul/spirit thus physical items are not theirs by right.
Second, for this even to be the possession of stolen goods, one would have to affirm that this cell line is that baby. But it is not. My grandpa died in his 80s and donated his body to science. If they got some cells from his lungs and then modify those and still culture them in a lab, I doubt anyone would refer to that as my grandpa. I definitely would not. Once a cell or cells of a particular organ are removed, they are no longer part of that person. The theft has happened and is not continual.
To make the immortalized cell lines used in vaccines, two more stages remove them from the person. First, they are modified so they reproduce ad infinitum or close to it. Second, they are many generations removed from the original cells. Thus, what is being used now, is definitely not an ongoing theft.
Third, one could theoretically refer to this as some kind of use of what came many steps back as the fruit of theft. However, the fact that we live in the USA which stole land from natives and then enslaved Africans for a good part of the economy would also qualify under that. This is the kind of remote cooperation that is almost unavoidable living in a fallen interconnected world. Also, he later admits that once something is stolen and several generations have gone by, restitution is not required as it is in the immediate aftermath.
Fourth, I do wonder how much the biology of cell lines and how they are used in vaccination is understood here. He showed a lack of scientific knowledge in my prior post and will continue to do so, and he seems to not quite grasp things properly relating to what a cell line is. He has never even attempted to explain what a cell line is other than it comes from an aborted baby.
Fifth, the whole question of stealing here would be based on presumed non-donation to medical research of cells of the fetus after death. However, in the case of a child below the age of reason that falls to the parents. One may argue that the parents are not capable due to their connection with the abortion but when parents are not able to make choices regarding the children, they then become wards of the state. I would presume the parents would have been asked and if it came to the state they would have approved. Also, if HEK293 was from a miscarriage (as it might have been), this would be important.
Sixth, as he goes on, he seems to hinge this argument on the idea of shared DNA. That does not quite make sense as things outside my body often share my DNA and are not part of my body. If I spit into a tube, that is no longer my body. In multiple cases, searching through garbage for things containing DNA has been upheld as a legitimate form of warrantless police search. In a short while, we will likely be able to manufacture a whole human genome in the lab.
Not each of these six arguments is equally strong, but together I think it is clear why Frs. Ripperger and Copenhagen are wrong.
Proximateness of Abortion to Vaccines
21:25: Quoting Fr. Copenhagen again, “While the original killing establishes the illicit character of using the remains, their possession and use becomes a distinct evil in itself, the circumstances of which do not cease as a form of theft, desecration, exploitation, and refusal to bury, regardless of the consumer’s distance in time from the abortion, or the number of cell divisions, or the merely sub-cellular fragmentary inclusion of the child’s DNA and protein in the final dose.”
22:10: “Using the abortion-derived DNA from the child renders the vaccination, even today, form a moral perspective, sufficiently proximate, although it is still remote, in relationship to the persons using it… It’s not as remote as the Pontifical Academy for Life wants to make it out to be.”
This is interesting as he does not refer to which statement by the Pontifical Academy for Life he is referring to. Their 2005 statement reads:
In general, doctors or parents who resort to the use of these vaccines for their children, in spite of knowing their origin (voluntary abortion), carry out a form of very remote mediate material cooperation.
Their 2017 statement said:
The technical characteristics of the production of the vaccines most commonly used in childhood lead us to exclude that there is a morally relevant cooperation between those who use these vaccines today and the practice of voluntary abortion.
I find it perfectly within reason to argue that the 2017 statement might have gone a little too far in indicating there is no “morally relevant cooperation.” In fact, I explained how the development of Walvax-2 specifically to mimic an existing cell line seems to bring in some very very remote cooperation.
Proximate cooperation is always evil, but it needs to be really close to the sinful act like the nurse handing the abortionist the tools or the getaway driver in a robbery. Even something like the receptionist at an abortion clinic is already considered remote, however, obviously, something barely remote like that should be avoided if at all possible.
23:02: “It is still part of his remains.” Nope. We already dealt with this above.
23:10: “Because the quality remains, temporal distance, has no bearing.” But this is dependent on his argument refuted above that the fetal cell line is a part of the fetus. Also, the time is not the main factor but the change. If it was 1980 and we were talking about HEK293 cells taken in 1973, it would be almost the same discussion as it is in 2020. However, if it was 1972 or 1973 and we were on a board overseeing research where the proposal to make what ended up as HEK293 was proposed, it would obviously be a different discussion.
Double-Effect and Vaccines
29:18: Fr. Ripperger argues that the principle of double effect has no bearing on vaccines. I really wonder how he can say that after talking about mediated remote material cooperation in evil. The manner of analyzing remote cooperation in evil is via the principles of double effect. Maybe he just categorizes things differently, but I always learned of principles for cooperation in evil to be built on the foundation of double effect. At 30:33, he explains remote cooperation in a manner almost identical to double effect.
32:40: He rightly points out we need to seek those vaccines without aborted tissue if available and promote their creation if not available.
Obligations and Remote Cooperation
34:22: Ryan, one of the hosts asks, “Are you ever morally obliged to cooperate in evil?” Fr. Ripperger says, “No, you’re not obligated” without adding qualifications. Actually, this can be true in a qualified way, it is not true in an unqualified way. To a certain extent, certain types of super-remote cooperation in evil is not so much obligatory but unavoidable. Let me give an example, if they are capable and they don’t sit on a huge investment, there is an obligation for at least one of the parents to seek employment to provide for the sustenance of their family. Often that will be sufficient to pay federal income tax. Not paying taxes due is a sin against the 7th commandment. However, taxes also pay for CIA black sites, protecting highly unjust countries, etc. which we all cooperate in through tax money, albeit very remotely.
Integral Good vs. Impossible Ideals
Fr. Ripperger notes the concept of the Integral good in this podcast. Since I watched it, several supporting his position online have emphasized this point. (It did not stand out when I watched so no timestamp.) The concept of the integral good is that an act should be good or indifferent in all three aspects: object, end, and circumstances. A serious issue in any of the three can render an act immoral. However, the concept does not require perfection in all three aspects, particularly in the circumstances. In an interconnected and fallen world, it is almost impossible to have 100.00% good circumstances in many acts. I dealt with this before, noting how many ordinary things are remote cooperation in evil. As such, remote cooperation will often make the circumstances imperfect but still not immoral. For example, we needed a new medium garbage bin recently, so I went and bought one. However, all the ones I saw in Walmart were made in China, so a fraction of a fraction of a cent of that purchase will go to China’s forced abortion program. Does that make the purchase of this garbage can evil? No, but it does make it imperfect. God never demands what is impossible so he can’t demand absolute perfection in circumstances like this.
Applying this to vaccines, when there is very remote cooperation in the evil of abortion, this cooperation does make the act imperfect, but it is far from making it definitively wrong. This is why repeatedly moralists have suggested that if you have the option of a COVID vaccine, choose the one with less cooperation in the evil of abortion (or even none) through fetal cell lines. Nonetheless, we would recommend vaccination with a vaccine with such remote cooperation if it is the only option. The object of immunization is good; the end of one’s health and others’ health is good; and the circumstances, although imperfect, are not sufficient to make the entire act evil (contrary to the integral good of the act).
The Need for COVID Vaccines
33:22: “The thing about COVID is there is not sufficiently grave cause to be vaccinated for it.” Then he belittles people who might want to get vaccinated as it is like “a hangnail.”
35:59: Ryan, the host, says, “The official numbers show that it’s like a 0.04% death rate nationwide.” Neither the other host, Steve, nor Fr. Ripperger objected to these numbers.
This again makes me ask where he got these statistics. There are certain sub-populations like young healthy people where it is that low, but with the only qualifier being “nationwide,” that would mean he’s indicating a national rate for all populations. I already dealt with ridiculous claims of survival rate in the post on Fr. Nix. Let me add another point here. 0.04% of the US population is about 131,000. There are currently 379,000 deaths. That means that even just counting actual deaths vs population not deaths vs infection as this rate is usually calculated, it is unrealistic. Such a death rate would have required us each to get COVID an average of almost 3 times already. Just before this, Ryan mentioned most people he knew have not gotten COVID, further emphasizing the point that the rates given by people on these podcasts are out of touch with reality.
The Testing of the COVID Vaccines
36:50 They move to the argument that the vaccines were rushed and untested without citing one piece of evidence beyond the time frame.
Here’s what I said about this in the video on Fr. Nix that applies here equally well:
Vaxelis (MCM Vaccine Co) vaccine is a vaccine approved in 2018. For its phase III trials, they note, “1465 [study participants] received study vaccinations.” Varivax in the standard chickenpox vaccine. Merck notes on their site: “Overall, 9454 healthy children (12 months to 12 years of age) and 1648 adolescents and adults (13 years of age and older) have been vaccinated with Oka/Merck live attenuated varicella vaccine [Varivax] in clinical trials.” Now for COVID, the Pfizer vaccine had 44,000, 22,000 of whom were vaccinated, in their phase III trial alone.
Fr. Ripperger encourages greater caution of this based on it coming too fast with uncertain testing but he’s never actually examined if the testing was comparable to prior vaccines just that it seems quick.
38:10: He claims that 10-15% are having difficulties in certain kinds of vaccination in the trials, but cites no source. First, of the ones coming out so far, that is not the case. In fact, the CDC noted 21 severe reactions (Anaphylaxis) among the first 1.9 million doses or about 1 in 90,000. Second, if a 10% severe reaction did happen it would indicate that we should approve some other vaccine: that’s why we do trials and don’t approve these for 20 million people right away.
Of the three posts, this probably went most into theology when dealing with an argument about continual theft. I offered six reasons why his argument fails. Related to this, there is also an error in how proximate cooperation in evil in vaccines is. Fr. Ripperger also makes some minor errors about moral theology and then some major errors about COVID-19. Soon, I will have a third part to this analysis with a series of errors with his sourcing leading to misunderstands about vaccines.
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