Drugs in pregnancy   Human fetal cells

The Abortion Connection

By Celeste McGovern

In Canada, a number of vaccines are grown on human cells from aborted
fetuses. The new chicken pox vaccine made by Merck Frosst Pharmaceuticals is
grown on the MRC-5 cell line derived from the normal lung tissue of a
14-week-old male fetus aborted "for psychiatric reasons." So are the polio
and hepatitis A vaccines. The rubella virus in the MMR (measles, mumps,
rubella) three-in-one shot is grown on the WI-38 cell line-developed in 1961
from an aborted three-month-old female fetus.

For some abortion opponents this is a problem: can they, in good conscience,
vaccinate themselves and their children when they are trying to avoid all
connection with abortion? Some wonder if vaccines made on such ethical
shortcuts can really be beneficial anyway.

For Calgary pharmacist Maria Bizecki, the vaccine-abortion connection was a
red flag. She followed the routine immunization schedule with her children,
who will turn three and one this month, until she learned about MRC-5 and the
MMR. "I don't think it's a grave sin or anything," she says. "It's a
risk-benefit assessment." Already questioning the safety of the jab because
of recent studies linking it to bowel disorders, Mrs. Bizecki, a Roman
Catholic and member of Pharmacists for Life, was tipped against vaccinating.
"I don't trust drug companies to begin with," says the pharmacist. "Most of
the time they have a conflict of interest in reporting adverse reactions of a
vaccine. This just makes them even more questionable."

But Mrs. Bizecki is not "anti-vaccine." She's angry that pharmaceuticals
don't use less controversial alternatives available. "I've talked to a lot of
parents that have concerns about this," she says.

Enough parents had asked questions about it in England and Wales in 1994 that
the Catholic Bishops" Conference there prepared a briefing paper. Catholic
parents "have no general obligation to refuse the vaccination," it reads.
However, it calls vaccine use of aborted fetal tissue "a kind of evil which
is widespread in biomedical research and which people rightly think they
should combat when they can." The "practice of medicine is being made
parasitic on [the] evils" of abortion and fetal experimentation, it adds, and
refusing vaccination is one "way of seeking to turn medicine from a course
which will increasingly subvert people's confidence in it."

If people become comfortable with the "regrettable origins of these
vaccines," notes Daniel Maher of the National Catholic Bioethics Center in
Boston, "it will become more difficult to maintain the distinction between
the use of existing fetal cell lines for vaccines and the use of fetal tissue
for research and transplantation." Research dependence on fetal tissue could
"soon grow so powerful financially," he adds, that there would be little hope
of ever reducing abortion.

The U.S. Congress is to begin hearings this month into a lucrative trade in
aborted fetal parts that has recently been connected to at least one Canadian
tax-funded laboratory, as well as to vaccine manufacturers such as Smith
Kline Beecham Pharmaceuticals. In 1993, Canada's Royal Commission on New
Reproductive Technologies reported that aborted fetal tissue is used
routinely by Canadian pharmaceuticals-primarily for vaccine and viral