Catholic Medical Quarterly Volume 71(1) February 2021

Current COVID-19 Vaccines: Licit or Illicit

An interview with Dr. Thomas Ward

Academy logoWe are delighted to be able to publish an interview with Dr Thomas Ward on the subject of the moral licitness of Covidvaccines. Dr Thomas Ward is the President of the St John-Paul II Academy for Human Life and the Family as well as a former member of the Pontifical Academy for Life. He is a retired GP in Suffolk.

Q. There has been ongoing controversy within the pro-life movement specifically over the COVID-19 Vaccines. Why is this?

A. The crux of the controversy is: simply whether it is or is not illicit to use COVID vaccines that use foetal cell lines in their development.

Q. So is it illicit to use the available Covid vaccines?

A. It is morally and aesthetically repugnant but it is not illicit.

Q. Why do you believe this?

A. My belief is principally based on a lifetime’s experience of practising ethical medicine against frequent and very real challenges from the culture of death. Remote material cooperation with evil is an almost daily problem for Family Doctors who have to face up to many more serious ethical decisions in a week than most laypeople have to in a lifetime. The moral theology of the Church on bioethics works because it is correct. To under­mine it will damage the sick, their doctors and nurses. It will wound the unity of Catholics on bioethics and therefore our witness to the sanctity of life.

Q. What is the Church’s teaching on the morality of the use or non use of current Covid vaccines.

A. Firstly I will speak of the morality of not using the current vaccines. Conscientious objection to the use of the vaccine is morally licit and not negotiable. However you are morally obliged to take reasonable precautions which might include some form of isolation to ensure that you do not become a carrier and put the health or life of some vulnerable or elderly person at risk.[1] This precaution also applies to those who have been vaccinated as whilst preliminary analyses suggest that some vaccines are likely to have a transmis­sion blocking effect its strength has yet to be ascertained.Moreover the choice not to be vaccinated is not without other problems as sadly it is not uncommon that cells from aborted foetuses have been used in the research and development of many modern drugs. Some examples would be Dornase used in cystic fibrosis, Embril used in rheumatoid arthritis and psoriasis, Darbopoetin used in the anaemia of chronic renal failure and dialysis. Regeneron used in the treatment of Covid has also been produced with the involve­ment of foetal cell lines. It would be morally inconsistent to reject the Covid vaccine because of the involvement of foetal cells whilst accepting another with the same involvement.

Q. So, what are the moral conditions for using existing COVID vaccines?

Vaccine VialA. There are a number to consider but I would highlight: the danger to health, the obligation to choose the least compromised vaccine, freedom from compulsion and the morally binding duty to apply political pressure for the ethical production of drugs on the pharmaceutical industry and governments. The danger to health has to be proportionate and it is. In the United Kingdom alone we have now [at the time of interview] had over 120,000 deaths associated with COVID. Many of these patients have died alone in hospitals without their families. This leaves 120,000 bereaved families for whom we as pro-life people must have compassion. Last year our hospitals treated a total of 242,307 patients who were confirmed to have COVID but in just the first month of this year, the number was 101,956. Furthermore in 2020 as a consequence of the pressure of COVID on health care there were 4 million fewer referrals for hospital treat­ment and investigations. The cancer care of 650,000 people was disrupted. The effects of COVID on many seriously ill people will last for years. It is an irresponsible understatement to describe this pandemic which has killed almost two and a half million people worldwide as “a very nasty flu”. [2]

We must at the moment, where possible, choose the least compromised vaccine e.g. one in which foetal cells have been used in quality control as opposed to manufacture. This requires using trust­worthy resources for information on vaccines and their developments including possible future ethical vaccines such as the Charlotte Lozier Institute. [3]

Another condition of vaccination is that one must be free to take or not to take the vaccine. There must be no compulsion. The Washington D.C. Council passed a Bill in October 2020 which would allow a child as young as 11 to receive a COVID vaccine without parental consent if the doctor determines that he or she is capable of informed consent. This odious usurpation of the Primary Rights of parents must be totally resisted.

Political pressure for ethically uncompromising medication.

I would like to highlight a quotation from the late Archbishop, later Cardinal Sgreccia, the author of the 2005 document from the Pontifical Academy for Life on the necessity to resist and ethically replace the production of vaccines using foetal cell lines. But first I wish to pay a personal tribute to this good Bishop. He was a bioethicist of the highest distinction and of critical importance, for his work was based upon a deep understanding of the medical facts under consideration. I knew him to be a holy, humble and kindly Bishop. He was also totally committed to the defence of orthodox Catholic doctrine. In the PAV document he stresses,

equally, they should oppose by all means (in writing, through the various associations, mass media, etc.) the vaccines which do not yet have morally acceptable alternatives, creating pressure so that alternative vaccines are prepared, which are not connected with the abortion of a human foetus, and requesting rigorous legal control of the pharmaceutical industry producers.”

The attached specimen letter from Bishop Thomas Daly of Spokane might provide your readers with a useful template with which they might pres­surise the pharmaceutical industry. [5]

Q. How would the replacement of Catholic moral teaching on remote material cooperation with evil damage Catholic doctors, nurses and patients?

A. Quite simply Catholic doctors who are already in daily medico-legal jeopardy would no longer be able to practice. Under the above proposal a Catholic doctor who prescribed any drug compromised by association with foetal cell lines could be considered to share in the guilt and even in the intention of a the evil of an abortion committed forty-nine years ago. Such culpability would apply not only to the use of present Covid vaccines and to other important vaccinations (eg Hepatitis A, MMR, Shingles and Chickenpox) but also to an increasing number of other necessary medications. How then could a Catholic oncologist morally prescribe the appropriate chemotherapeutic agent eg. to a lady with breast cancer where foetal cells had been involved in its production?

How could Catholic doctors and nurses working at great risk in intensive care units protect their own lives by vaccination?

Likewise a patient who knew of the association of his medication with HEK 293 foetal cells would also share in the guilt of the 1972 abortion.

Whilst I am sure that the advocates of the inadmissibility of the Catholic doctrine on remote material cooperation with evil in the context of abortion are well meaning I do however fear that they lack a clear understanding of sound medical practice and sound moral theology.

Q. How would the undermining of Catholic moral teaching damage our witness to life from the moment of conception till natural death?

A. It would divide pro-life Catholics into two opposing camps. On the one hand there would be those faithful to Catholic moral doctrine and this includes, at real personal and professional cost, the great majority of faithful Catholic doctors and nurses.On the other hand there would be a new dissident movement based on personal opinion in opposition to the repeated teaching of the Church. For this latter group and their supporters in the media the litmus test of being pro-life would be an absolute rejection of current vaccines which have associations with foetal cell lines.By weakening the pro-life move­ment because of their legitimate revulsion at the use of foetal cell lines from an abortion commit­ted in 1974 the lives of the today’s unborn would be put at even greater risk.

It must be remembered that Catholic teaching on life is not only on the value of unborn life but of all life from the moment of conception till natural death and its undermining would put at grave risk of Covid the lives of millions of vulnerable people world wide. Thank God this dissident nightmare is simply not a possibility. However at a local level there is reason for concern as some devout Catholics now believe that they do not have the moral option to use Covid vaccines for fear of gravely offending God. They may die.
Again I quote from Bishop Sgreccia from his 2005 PAV statement

“In any case, there remains a moral duty to continue to fight and to employ every lawful means in order to make life difficult for the pharmaceutical industries which act unscrupulously and unethically. However, the burden of this important battle cannot and must not fall on innocent children and on the health situation of of the population - especially with regard to pregnant women.”

I would paraphrase his last sentence: the burden of this important battle against the evil use of foetal cells cannot and must not fall on innocent elderly and vulnerable people or indeed on the faithful Catholics doctors and nurses who care for them.

Q. Why did the world Episcopate not effectively respond to Archbishop Sgreccia’s request in 2005 for pressing by all means for rigorous legal control of the pharmaceutical industry?

A. Because the rejection of Humane Vitae was followed by silence on contraception and consequently abortion. Had it been otherwise by now we might well have ethical vaccines unconnected with the crime of abortion. However the grave issue of vaccines produced by foetal cell lines is only a part of an all encompassing culture based on death.

Q. So what is the true scale of the problem?

A. Experience in the United Kingdom and world­wide has now shown that the economy and also education depend upon health care. It is estimated that the final bill for the last year will be 28 trillion dollars worldwide making this the worst economic collapse since the depression. 81% of the world's workforce of 3.3 billion people had their place of work fully or partly closed because of the outbreak. Investment has been decimated. It is feared that ascent out of this collapse will be prolonged, uneven and uncertain. Approximately 1.6 billion children worldwide were affected by school closure at the peak of COVID in April last year. This will have serious and prolonged effects on society, economies and health.

Thus our food supply is dependent on the economy, the economy dependent upon health, health dependent on medicines, medicines particularly Covid vaccines dependent on foetal cell lines and foetal cell lines dependent on abortion. Abortion now underpins our civilisation.

Q. How do we move ahead?

A. Firstly on this point I would like to pay tribute to the the courageous witness of those few holy bishops and journalists who have at last succeeded in focussing the serious attention of the Church and public opinion on the use of foetal cell lines resulting from abortion in medicine.

The Church and humanity truly owe them a debt of gratitude.

We have now started to move ahead but if we are to make real progress we must address the totality of the problem. Here it is essential to note that foetal cell lines are now fairly ubiquitous in the research, development, production and testing of many medicines. They are also used in industry in­cluding elements of the food industry. It has been estimated that HEK cell lines have been reproduced trillions of times.

Q. Can you be more specific on how we are to move ahead?

A. Yes. Firstly, on the matter of the particular question of whether it is licit or illicit to use the available Covid vaccine, the current politicised and very public division must stop. Endangering the consciences and lives of vulnerable, good Catholics must now stop. Bishops who sincerely oppose Church doctrine on this point should now stop their public campaign and have the courage to present a formal Dubium to Rome. Secondly, unyielding pressure must be brought to bear on drug house on behalf of one billion two hundred thousand Catholics who require ethically produced medication with no association with abortion. They will conform!

Thirdly, abortion which now underpins our culture is the child of contraception and our betrayal by the great majority of Catholics of Humanae Vitae. This betrayal has paralysed effective Catholic opposition to abortion and resulted in our present cultural catastrophe. It is precisely here that good Bishops must launch a Christian counter cultural revolution faithful to Jesus Christ who is the way the truth and the life.


  1. Can COVID vaccines stop transmission? Scientists race to find answers. Nature
  2. Number of deaths in the United Kingdom from 1887 to 2020­of-deaths-in-the-united-kingdom-uk/
  3. COVID-19 Vaccine Candidates and Abortion-Derived Cell Lines
  5. Contact Pfizer/Moderna (with Model Letter)