The vaccine and abortion (2) How do we make ethical decisions?

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The other day. I posted an article looking at the moral dilemma created by the fact that over the years, those creating vaccines have relied on cells harvested from aborted embryos in order to cultivate vaccines.  A few people began to openly wrestle with the implications to this.  They expressed discomfort at the news and the implication for their own choice.  I think it is a good thing when we acknowledge that a decision is hard and requires us to wrestle with it.  In that context one person asked the question “What would Jesus do or say?”

I think that’s a good question to be asking.  Indeed, because the whole of Scripture is God’s Word where he speaks, because it tells us about what he does and because Jesus is named as “The Word” we can also phrase that in terms of “What does God/The Bible do and say?”

In this article I wanted to highlight some of the factors we need to consider when making ethical issues along these lines. The first one is that it means we will make decisions in the light of Creation.  God is the one who brings life into being. All life is owed to him.  Two important implications here are, first that humans are made in God’s image (Genesis 1:26-28) and so carry value and dignity. I believe that this includes embryos. Life begins at conception, whether naturally within the womb or with medical help outside of the womb.[1]

Incidentally, this helps answer another question asked recently which was about where was the soul of an embryo kept frozen outside of the womb prior to a mother being fertilised through IVF. My answer would be that the soul is there in the embryo just as we would consider it to be there when a baby is growing in the womb after conception. Consciousness is not a precondition for the embryo being considered a person, no more or less than with an adult who may be in a deep coma on life support.

It is this that causes me to object to abortion and to experimentation on embryos such as with stem cell research.  It also has implications for how we approach and make decisions about fertility treatment. However we approach it and what ever decisions we run with, we cannot simply consider any embryos produced as spare.

The second factor, and the unique point about Christian ethics is that we view decisions in the light of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  I would encourage you to read Oliver Donovan, “Resurrection and Moral Order” on this, a challenging but worthwhile read. You will notice that in my earlier article I talk in terms of death being followed by life. This is so important to our thinking.

This means, thirdly that all of our ethical decisions happen in the context of grace. What I mean by this is that we have recognised they are often not easy. I may make bad decisions based on faulty information, my own finite ability to process it and human frailty and fallenness meaning that there may be selfish factors as to why I end up leaning into decisions that seem to best suit me.  Grace is not an excuse for being careless in my decision making[2] but grace is important for how I look back on my decisions, especially when I regret them to know that there is grace and forgiveness for when I get it wrong.

This also means that I should treat the decisions of others with grace especially when I disagree with them. Paul in both Romans and 1 Corinthians talks about the weak and the strong brother.The strong should not simply force their own position on the weak. Now, this does not mean that there isn’t a right and wrong option but it does remind us to treat others with grace and compassion. It is usually best to assume that I take the position of the strong brother in order that my attitude to others is shaped by grace, humility and a willingness to give up my own rights rather than by  sense of entitlement so that I expect my views always to be preferred.

These factors may or may not change the outcome of your own decision on the vaccination. However, regardless of whether they change your mind, they should shape how you make your decision and how you respond to the decisions made by others.

[1] See e.g. Jeremiah 1:5 and Psalm 139:15-16


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