Recently the Facebook Page “Californians for Vaccine Choice” published a letter written by Debi Vinnedge, Executive Director of Children of God for Life, to California State Senator Joel Anderson. Having been subject to a major measles outbreak just a few short months ago, the California legislature has been examining ways to prevent further outbreaks from occurring in the future, culminating with Senate Bill 277. In her letter, Ms. Vinnedge talks about, among other things, the right of conscience and the lack of alternative vaccines carrying no taint of remote cooperation with evil for Californians who would otherwise immunize their children.
First of all, what is a vaccine mandate? A vaccine mandate is not the same as compulsory vaccination. In no state in the United States is any immunization compulsory. There are no places where a child will be forcibly vaccinated over and against parental objections or legitimate medical contraindications. This is not an edict imposed on the masses to ensure complete compliance of the population with a Big Brotherly demand that all children submit to medical procedures deemed necessary by the state.
The removal of the philosophical and religious exemptions essentially state that in order to partake of public goods such as education, one must take reasonable precautions deemed necessary by the medical community in order to protect the public good. A philosophical objection to the concept of immunization, or a personal religious objection to an individual vaccine, does not give any family the right to create a concrete, increased risk of harm to every other child just trying to get an education.
There are many people of good will on both sides of the issue of immunization, particularly when it comes to questions as challenging as the ones posed by vaccines grown in fetal cell culture. But Ms. Vinnedge? You don’t speak for me. You don’t speak for the millions upon millions of Catholic parents who safeguard the public good, including protecting the life of the unborn, by choosing to immunize their children. You do not have the right to represent yourself as offering the “Catholic response.” Qualified by neither formal training nor representing a majority consensus, you cannot in justice attempt to offer “the Catholic position” on Senate Bill 277.
Neither do you have the right to undermine the credibility of the National Catholic Bioethics Center, an organization whose close ties to the USCCB and to the Vatican are beyond dispute. This organization exists to serve Catholics in the United States as they grapple with intensely challenging moral issues. They have the education and training necessary to provide moral guidance that is worthy of a close examination by anyone struggling with these issues. Children of God for Life seeks to imply that they are on equal footing with the National Catholic Bioethics Center in terms of their moral analysis of the problem of ethically tainted vaccines. They could not be more wrong. The writings of a special interest group of concerned lay people cannot possibly be held as having the same authority as those offered by theologians and bioethicists whose expertise is profound, whose fidelity to the Magisterium of the Catholic Church is beyond question.
Concerning the issue of alternative vaccines, the authors of this blog would welcome such alternatives if they were available. We all benefit from more choices, not fewer ones, and every blogger on this site would be happy to see an environment where not a single immunization had even the most remote relationship with any abortion. Nor do we want to impugn the character, faithful conviction, conscience or good intentions of Ms. Vinnedge or any who ally themselves with her.
However, the single greatest impediment to the creation of alternative vaccines in the United States is the prolonged, repeated, undeniable anti-vaccine sentiment so often shown in the public statements given by Children of God for Life as well as the personal writings of its Executive Director, Debi Vinnedge. No vaccine manufacturer would consider expending hundreds of millions of dollars it would require to get an alternative vaccine when it is impossible to tell whether the concerns regarding fetal cell culture are legitimate. It is impossible for any manufacturer or scientist to tell whether there is an actual moral concern or yet another red herring from an anti-vaccine movement so disingenuous and manipulative that it will prey on the deeply held convictions of faithful Catholics and others opposed to abortion to use them as a way to attack vaccines. Catholics deserve more consideration on this issue than to be used as yet another pawn by an anti vaccine movement willing to use any stick as long as it attacks vaccines.*
The inability to separate legitimate moral issues (which should be addressed!) from exploitative anti-vaccine hysterics is the first impediment to alternative vaccines, but it is quickly followed by questionable science from within the pro-life community. Dr. Theresa Deisher’s work has been examined thoroughly both on this blog as well as others, and it is “poor in conception, argument, and quality” and consequently of dubious merit. Her theory is not plausible with what we understand about autism, her statistical analysis does not hold up to scrutiny, and her hypothesis is biologically implausible. We do not deny Dr. Deisher’s expertise in her given field, nor do we question her personal fidelity to the Church or her character, but her scholarship and contributions to science have been solely in the field of stem cell research. In terms of infectious disease, immunology, or vaccine development, Deisher has no expertise, no advanced training, and no professional experience.
Moreover, the meaningful objection to vaccines grown in fetal cell culture are moral objections, not medical ones. The production of a vaccine grown in fetal cell culture has to be morally examined on its own merits, not on the accidental consequences that might happen after the fact. None of us would say that a vaccine grown in fetal cell culture lost its moral ambiguity if it could be shown that it added 10 years of life to its recipient, prevented cancer, increased intelligence, or conferred some other benefit. Why then are we so willing to allow dubious medical claims to stand in place of a moral objection? The moral concerns about using cells taken from a pre born child lost in abortion can stand on its own, without the false support of questionable science. All that is accomplished by adding in bad science to a moral question is that moral concerns are certain to never get a fair hearing. Instead, superstition, theories of conspiracy and outright calumny against those who develop and produce immunization guarantee that nothing substantial will ever change or improve.
Finally, regarding the questions pertaining to conscience, I can find no more clear source on the topic of conscience and immunization than the one Ms. Vinnedge is so willing to impugn, the National Catholic Bioethics Center. Last year we reached out to the NCBC to get a more clear understanding of whether Catholics should treat immunization as a duty that they have to the common good. So, I will close with guidance from one of the nation’s preeminent Catholic bioethicists, Dr. Edward Furton:
“Unfounded fears about possible adverse effects do not overcome the objective duty to make use of immunizations. To make a sound moral judgment, the individual Catholic must properly inform his or her conscience. That means that one must seek to determine whether fears are based in reason and fact, or they are instead merely — if I may put it this way — superstitions. A correctly formed conscience will come to the conclusion that immunization is a moral obligation.”
* Note, I have chosen to not directly print what Ms. Vinnedge has said in the past about various scientists and vaccines, however anyone who needs to be able to see direct evidence of past anti-vaccine statements from her can find many examples here and here in this infographic.