Ethical Aspects of Immunization


Author: Darko Richter
Page Range: 223-258
Published in: International Journal of Ethics, 17#4
ISSN: 1535-4776

Table of Contents


Ethics is an intellectual discipline deriving from philosophy that is gradually supplanting the set of rules constituting the generally accepted moral doctrine rooted in the religious identity of a given society, irrespective of the often-waning intensity of religious beliefs and practices. Moral doctrine has it that each human act, social or individual, is subject to moral scrutiny, whereas the criteria for choosing topics for ethical analysis are more selective, often lacking transparency. Those charged with promulgating moral doctrine do not hesitate to rely on the methods of ethical judgment to formulate or give flesh to moral dogmas, although ethics in itself rarely, if ever, reaches morally binding solutions regarding contemporary issues. The relatively recent emergence of technological platforms for the production of a wide array of vaccines has made the surrounding controversies a straightforward subject of legal and ethical deliberations, as well as a potentially moral issue. For decades, the focus has been on the antivaccine movement and potential harm from immunization, especially, though not exclusively, limited to mandatory vaccination. This article will address the neglected ethical aspects of a moral problem that has surfaced with regard to the use of human fetal cell cultures in the manufacture of many vaccines included in the recommended or mandatory childhood immunization schedules. It will also touch upon current issues regarding some COVID-19 vaccines obtained using the human fetal cell strains/lines. The human fetal cell strains/lines WI-38, MRC-5, HEK 293, and PER.C6, have been used in the production of live attenuated rubella vaccine, live attenuated chickenpox vaccine, live attenuated smallpox vaccine, inactivated hepatitis A vaccine, inactivated poliomyelitis vaccine, and inactivated rabies vaccine. Some of the new vaccines against COVID-19 have also been developed and grown on human fetal cell culture media. Moreover, vaccine immunogenicity testing is performed in some instances by determining neutralizing antibody titers on human fetal cell strains/lines and/or by using pseudoviruses developed on human fetal cell strains/lines. How the ethical considerations compare with the moral doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church, which is considered the strongest articulate institutional source of moral doctrine in the contemporary world, will be laid out and discussed in detail, with regard to the ethical and moral ramifications.

Keywords: fetal cell lines, vaccine production on human fetal cell lines, COVID-19, adenovirus vectored vaccines, mRNA vaccines, pseudovirus neutralization test, beginning of human life, human embryo, ethics, moral doctrine, cooperation in evil, free consent

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