Katholieke Stichting Medische Ethiek
9 december 2022

Vaticaans astronoom over vaccindebat: ‘Vertrouw de wetenschap, maar verafgood haar niet’

Katholieke Nieuwsblad, 21 januari 2022
door Carol Glatz

Degenen die hardnekkig sceptisch zijn over de wetenschap en degenen die haar gretig als onfeilbaar omarmen, koesteren beide een gevaarlijk misverstand over wat wetenschap is. Dat schrijft de Amerikaanse jezuïet en astronoom van het Vaticaan Guy Gonsolmagno.

De beide tendensen weerspiegelen “de verleiding om van wetenschap of geloof een vesting te maken tegen onze fundamentele en menselijke angst voor onzekerheid”, zo schrijft broeder Guy Gonsolmagno in het januarinummer van het Italiaanse jezuïetentijdschrift La Civilta Cattolica. Beide zijn te zien in het debat over coronavaccins. “We vertrouwen het vaccin niet omdat het perfect is, maar omdat het de kans om niet ziek te worden enorm vergroot. Het echte en duidelijke probleem ligt in het feit dat de mccsten van ons niet begrijpen hoe waarschijnlijkheid werkt: daarom zijn casino’s en loterijen zo succesvol”, aldus Gonsolmagno.

Vaccinsceptici en samenzweringstheoretici hebben een verkeerd beeld van wat wetenschap is en wat die kan beloven, zo stelt de katholieke wetenschapper. Aan de andere kant zijn er de mensen die de wetenschap ten onrechte als onfeilbaar beschouwen; zij voeden uiteindelijk de wetenschapsscepsis.

Consolmagno is planetair astronoom en directeur van de Vaticaanse sterrenwacht. Hij schrijft dat het belangrijk is dat mensen het ware doel van de wetenschap begrijpen en inzien hoe belangrijk en noodzakelijk twijfel is om vooruitgang te boeken en meer begrip te krijgen.

Een populaire slogan van voorstanders van coronavaccins is trust the Science, ‘vertrouw op de wetenschap’, zo merkt hij op. Die slogan drukt terecht uit dat de wetenschap een betrouwbare weg naar de waarheid is, vindt Consolmagno, maar hij hekelt de mensen die eruit afleiden dat de wetenschap de enige betrouwbare gids is.

Misvatting

Deze valse of-of tweedeling voedt de misvatting dat geloof en wetenschap op gespannen voet met elkaar staan, schrijft hij. Het zou ook een deel van de reden kunnen zijn waarom uit een Amerikaans onderzoek uit september 2021 bleek dat de vaccinatiebereidheid onder blanke evangelicale gelovigen in de VS het laagst is van alle bevolkingsgroepen.

“In die gemeenschap bestaat een wantrouwen tegenover de wetenschap, dat zich vertaalt in scepsis tegenover vaccins. Het is alsof het onderzoek zegt dat dat wantrouwen volgt op een waargenomen noodzaak om te kiezen tussen wetenschap en geloof”, schrijft de jezuïet.

“Dit misverstand is niet alleen wijdverbreid onder degenen die sceptisch staan tegenover de wetenschap, maar ook, en misschien nog wel gevaarlijker, onder degenen die de wetenschap te overhaast omarmen.” Want wanneer de wetenschap er niet in slaagt om te voldoen aan een soort “overdreven betrouwbaarheid, voedt deze mislukking alleen maar de scepsis” over de wetenschap in het algemeen, aldus Consolmagno.

Mensen geven het misschien niet graag toe, maar “er zit een kern van waarheid in die angst om onvoorwaardelijk vertrouwen te schenken aan de wetenschap”, schrijft hij verder. “De wetenschap maakt soms fouten.”

“Coronavaccins voorkomen ziekte bij de overgrote meerderheid van degenen die gevaccineerd zijn en verminderen de ernst van de ziekte. Maar vaccins zijn niet perfect en mensen kunnen nog steeds ziek worden, ook al is dat zelden ernstig.”

De jezuïet gaat nog een stapje verder: wetenschap is bij uitstek gebaseerd op twijfel en fouten. “Falen is geen optie, het is een vereiste.” Weten dat men “niets weet”, is de drijfveer voor diepere studie en voor vooruitgang. Wetenschap is van nature altijd onvolledig, groeit en verandert naarmate nieuwe kennis en ervaring zich opstapelen, stelt hij. Je kunt prima een oud boek over filosofie of theologie lezen, “maar je zou nooit het biologieboek van je grootvader bestuderen”.

“Je wordt pas wetenschapper als je in staat bent om naar iets te kijken waarvan je dacht datje het begreep en uiteindelijk te zeggen: ‘Dat klopt niet!’ Deze onzekerheid accepteren, verplicht je echter ook om de risico’s te accepteren die verbonden zijn aan het proberen van iets onzekers.”

Sciëntisme

“Zekerheid is geen religie, maar fanatisme; het is geen wetenschap, maar sciëntisme”, dat wil zeggen een blind vertrouwen in de wetenschap.

De honger naar zekerheid en het wantrouwen tegenover gezag zijn vreemde bedgenoten, omdat de één “een perfecte waarheid wil en tegelijkertijd iedereen afwijst die zegt dat hij in staat is ons naar die waarheid te leiden”. Wat er uiteindelijk gebeurt, waarschuwt Consolmagno, is dat mensen op zoek gaan naar hun eigen antwoorden, hun eigen onderzoek online doen en “de voorkeur geven aan geheime bronnen van kennis die alleen beschikbaar zijn voor een paar mensen die er verstand van hebben”.

Dit wordt volgens hem bijzonder gevaarlijk wanneer mensen zo ver gaan in het vasthouden aan deze persoonlijke overtuigingen, dat ze er bijvoorbeeld hun baan door verliezen, en gaan denken dat ze ‘vervolgd’ worden om hun principes. Een puur verkeerde opvatting kan dan zo verankerd raken dat ze nooit meer als onjuist kan worden aanvaard, omdat ze een fundamenteel onderdeel van iemands wezen en identiteit is geworden.

“Wetenschap geeft niet de perfecte waarheid, maar experimenten en theorieën kunnen voortdurend worden verfijnd, waardoor mensen steeds nauwkeurigere beschrijvingen van de natuur krijgen”, schrijft Consolmagno. “Wetenschap bedrijven hangt af van het houden van zelfs de saaie delen van nauwgezet onderzoek doen. Het is geloven zelfs wanneer het vertrouwen in onze wetenschappelijke vooruitgang wankelt, het is bereid zijn om te vergeven en te leren van degenen die in het verleden fouten hebben gemaakt. Liefhebben betekent leven met onzekerheid, leren vertrouwen.” Leven met de onzekerheid van ziekte, de feilbaarheid van de wetenschap en de angst om je persoonlijke autonomie te verliezen, vereist vertrouwen in het werk van anderen. Dat moet volgens Consolmagno – net als de liefde – worden gedaan “met voorzichtigheid en durf”.

Wees verstandig en voorzichtig, spring er niet blind in, maar geloof ook in kennis, die mooi en feilbaar is, concludeert hij. Ondanks de onvolmaaktheid van de wetenschap, leidt ze toch tot een verhoogde kans op een gezond leven. “We zijn blij dat God ons het vermogen heeft gegeven om zijn schepping te begrijpen en te waarderen door middel van onze wetenschap.”


Paus: ‘reality check’ over vaccins nodig

De coronapandemie vraagt om een dringende realiteitscheck tegen ongegronde informatie en om grotere inspanningen zodat iedereen toegang heeft tot vaccins en andere medische hulpmiddelen. Dat zei paus Franciscus bij een recente bijeenkomst met diplomaten uit de hele wereld.

De paus drong erop aan dat regeringen en de internationale gemeenschap de effectiviteit en het belang erkennen van het immuniseren van zoveel mogelijk mensen als onderdeel van de bestrijdingvan de pandemie.

“Vaccins zijn geen tovermiddel, maar toch vormen zij de meest redelijke oplossingvoor de preventie van de ziekte”, zo zei de paus tijdens zijn jaarlijkse ontmoeting met de ambassadeurs van de 183 landen die diplomatieke betrekkingen met het Vaticaan onderhouden. “Helaas komen we er steeds meer achter dat we leven in een wereld van sterke ideologische tegenstellingen” waarbij mensen zich laten beïnvloeden door “ongefundeerde informatie of slecht gedocumenteerde feiten”.

“Elke ideologische uitspraak verbreekt de band tussen de menselijke rede en de objectieve werkelijkheid”, aldus Franciscus, wat leidt tot relativisme. “De pandemie daarentegen spoort ons aan tot een soort ‘realiteitstherapie’ die ons ertoe aanzet het probleem frontaal onder ogen te zien en passende remedies aan te nemen om het op te lossen.”


Overgenomen met toestemming van Katholiek Nieuwsblad.


Verantwoordelijkheid voor eigen gezondheid en die van anderen is een morele verplichting

Pope Francis
10 January 2022

Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen!

Yesterday concluded the liturgical season of Christmas, a privileged period for cultivating family relationships, from which we can at times be distracted and distant due to our many commitments during the year. Today we want to continue in that spirit, as we once more come together as a large family which discusses and dialogues. In the end, that is the aim of all diplomacy: to help resolve disagreements arising from human coexistence, to foster harmony and to realize that, once we pass beyond conflict, we can recover a sense of the profound unity of all reality.

I am therefore particularly grateful to you for taking part today in our annual “family gathering”, a propitious occasion for exchanging good wishes for the New Year and for considering together the lights and shadows of our time. I especially thank the Dean, His Excellency Mr George Poulides, the Ambassador of Cyprus, for his gracious address to me in the name of the entire Diplomatic Corps. Through all of you, I extend my affectionate greetings to the peoples you represent.

Your presence is always a tangible sign of the attention your countries devote to the Holy See and its role in the international community. Many of you have come from other capital cities for today’s event, thus joining the numerous Ambassadors residing in Rome, who will soon be joined by the Swiss Confederation.

Dear Ambassadors,

In these days, we are conscious that the fight against the pandemic still calls for a significant effort on the part of everyone; certainly, the New Year will continue to be demanding in this regard. The coronavirus continues to cause social isolation and to take lives. Among those who have died, I would like to mention the late Archbishop Aldo Giordano, an Apostolic Nuncio who was well-known and respected in the diplomatic community. At the same time, we have realized that in those places where an effective vaccination campaign has taken place, the risk of severe repercussions of the disease has decreased.

It is therefore important to continue the effort to immunize the general population as much as possible. This calls for a manifold commitment on the personal, political and international levels. First, on the personal level. Each of us has a responsibility to care for ourself and our health, and this translates into respect for the health of those around us. Health care is a moral obligation. Sadly, we are finding increasingly that we live in a world of strong ideological divides. Frequently people let themselves be influenced by the ideology of the moment, often bolstered by baseless information or poorly documented facts. Every ideological statement severs the bond of human reason with the objective reality of things. The pandemic, on the other hand, urges us to adopt a sort of “reality therapy” that makes us confront the problem head on and adopt suitable remedies to resolve it. Vaccines are not a magical means of healing, yet surely they represent, in addition to other treatments that need to be developed, the most reasonable solution for the prevention of the disease.

A political commitment is thus needed to pursue the good of the general population through measures of prevention and immunization that also engage citizens so that they can feel involved and responsible, thanks to a clear discussion of the problems and the appropriate means of addressing them. The lack of resolute decision-making and clear communication generates confusion, creates mistrust and undermines social cohesion, fueling new tensions. The result is a “social relativism” detrimental to harmony and unity.

In the end, a comprehensive commitment on the part of the international community is necessary, so that the entire world population can have equal access to essential medical care and vaccines. We can only note with regret that, for large areas of the world, universal access to health care remains an illusion. At this grave moment in the life of humanity, I reiterate my appeal that governments and concerned private entities demonstrate a sense of responsibility, developing a coordinated response at every level (local, national, regional, global), through new models of solidarity and tools to strengthen the capabilities of those countries in greatest need. In particular, I would urge all states, who are working to establish an international instrument on pandemic preparedness and response under the aegis of the World Health Organization, to adopt a policy of generous sharing as a key principle to guarantee everyone access to diagnostic tools, vaccines and drugs. Likewise, it is appropriate that institutions such as the World Trade Organization and the World Intellectual Property Organization adapt their legal instruments lest monopolistic rules constitute further obstacles to production and to an organized and consistent access to healthcare on a global level.

Dear Ambassadors,

Last year, thanks also to the lessening of the restrictions put in place in 2020, I had occasion to receive many Heads of State and Governments, as well as various civil and religious authorities.

Among those many meetings, I would like to mention that of 1 July 2021, devoted to reflection and prayer for Lebanon. To the beloved Lebanese people, who are working to find a solution to the economic and political crisis that has gripped the nation, I wish today to renew my closeness and my prayers. At the same time, I trust that necessary reforms and the support of the international community will help the country to persevere in its proper identity as a model of peaceful coexistence and brotherhood among the different religions.

In the course of 2021, I was also able to resume my Apostolic Journeys. In March, I had the joy of travelling to Iraq. Providence willed this, as a sign of hope after years of war and terrorism. The Iraqi people have the right to regain their dignity and to live in peace. Their religious and cultural roots go back thousands of years: Mesopotamia is a cradle of civilization; it is from there that God called Abraham to inaugurate the history of salvation.

In September, I travelled to Budapest for the conclusion of the International Eucharistic Congress, and thereafter to Slovakia. It was an opportunity for me to meet with the Catholic faithful and Christians of other confessions, and to dialogue with the Jewish community. I likewise travelled to Cyprus and Greece, a Journey that remains vivid in my memory. That visit allowed me to deepen ties with our Orthodox brothers and to experience the fraternity existing between the various Christian confessions.

A very moving part of that Journey was my visit to the island of Lesbos, where I was able to see at first hand the generosity of all those working to provide hospitality and assistance to migrants, but above all, to see the faces of the many children and adults who are guests of these centres of hospitality. Their eyes spoke of the effort of their journey, their fear of an uncertain future, their sorrow for the loved ones they left behind and their nostalgia for the homeland they were forced to depart. Before those faces, we cannot be indifferent or hide behind walls and barbed wires under the pretext of defending security or a style of life. This we cannot do.

Consequently, I thank all those individuals and governments working to ensure that migrants are welcomed and protected, and to support their human promotion and integration in the countries that have received them. I am aware of the difficulties that some states encounter in the face of a large influx of people. No one can be asked to do what is impossible for them, yet there is a clear difference between accepting, albeit in a limited way, and rejecting completely.

There is a need to overcome indifference and to reject the idea that migrants are a problem for others. The results of this approach are evident in the dehumanization of those migrants concentrated in hotspots where they end up as easy prey to organized crime and human traffickers, or engage in desperate attempts to escape that at times end in death. Sadly, we must also note that migrants are themselves often turned into a weapon of political blackmail, becoming a sort of “bargaining commodity” that deprives them of their dignity.

Here I would like to renew my gratitude to the Italian authorities, thanks to whom several persons were able to come with me to Rome from Cyprus and Greece. This was a simple yet meaningful gesture. To the Italian people, who suffered greatly at the beginning of the pandemic, but who have also shown encouraging signs of recovery, I express my heartfelt hope that they will always maintain their characteristic spirit of generosity, openness and solidarity.

At the same time, I consider it essential that the European Union arrive at internal cohesion in handling migration movements, just as it did in dealing with the effects of the pandemic. There is a need to adopt a coherent and comprehensive system for coordinating policies on migration and asylum, with a view to sharing responsibility for the reception of migrants, the review of requests for asylum, and the redistribution and integration of those who can be accepted. The capacity to negotiate and discover shared solutions is one of the strong points of the European Union; it represents a sound model for a farsighted approach to the global challenges before us.

Nonetheless, the migration issue does not regard Europe alone, even though it is especially affected by waves of migrants coming from Africa and from Asia. In recent years, we have witnessed, among others, an exodus of Syrian refugees and, more recently, the many people who have fled Afghanistan. Nor can we overlook the massive migration movements on the American continent, which press upon the border between Mexico and the United States of America. Many of those migrants are Haitians fleeing the tragedies that have struck their country in recent years.

The issue of migration, together with the pandemic and climate change, has clearly demonstrated that we cannot be saved alone and by ourselves: the great challenges of our time are all global. It is thus troubling that, alongside the greater interconnection of problems, we are seeing a growing fragmentation of solutions. It is not uncommon to encounter unwillingness to open windows of dialogue and spaces of fraternity; this only fuels further tensions and divisions, as well as a generalized feeling of uncertainty and instability. What is needed instead is a recovery of our sense of shared identity as a single human family. The alternative can only be growing isolation, marked by a reciprocal rejection and refusal that further endangers multilateralism, the diplomatic style that has characterized international relations from the end of the Second World War to the present time.

For some time now, multilateral diplomacy has been experiencing a crisis of trust, due to the reduced credibility of social, governmental and intergovernmental systems. Important resolutions, declarations and decisions are frequently made without a genuine process of negotiation in which all countries have a say. This imbalance, now dramatically evident, has generated disaffection towards international agencies on the part of many states; it also weakens the multilateral system as a whole, with the result that it becomes less and less effective in confronting global challenges.

The diminished effectiveness of many international organizations is also due to their members entertaining differing visions of the ends they wish to pursue. Not infrequently, the centre of interest has shifted to matters that by their divisive nature do not strictly belong to the aims of the organization. As a result, agendas are increasingly dictated by a mindset that rejects the natural foundations of humanity and the cultural roots that constitute the identity of many peoples. As I have stated on other occasions, I consider this a form of ideological colonization, one that leaves no room for freedom of expression and is now taking the form of the “cancel culture” invading many circles and public institutions. Under the guise of defending diversity, it ends up cancelling all sense of identity, with the risk of silencing positions that defend a respectful and balanced understanding of various sensibilities. A kind of dangerous “one-track thinking” [pensée unique] is taking shape, one constrained to deny history or, worse yet, to rewrite it in terms of present-day categories, whereas any historical situation must be interpreted in the light of a hermeneutics of that particular time, not that of today.

Multilateral diplomacy is thus called to be truly inclusive, not canceling but cherishing the differences and sensibilities that have historically marked various peoples. In this way, it will regain credibility and effectiveness in facing the challenges to come, which will require humanity to join together as one great family that, starting from different viewpoints, should prove capable of finding common solutions for the good of all. This calls for reciprocal trust and willingness to dialogue; it entails “listening to one another, sharing different views, coming to agreement and walking together”. Indeed, “dialogue is the best way to realize what ought always to be affirmed and respected apart from any ephemeral consensus”. Nor should we overlook “the existence of certain enduring values”. Those are not always easy to discern, but their acceptance “makes for a robust and solid social ethics. Once those fundamental values are adopted through dialogue and consensus, we realize that they rise above consensus”. Here I wish to mention in particular the right to life, from conception to its natural end, and the right to religious freedom.

In this regard, in recent years we have seen a growing collective awareness of the urgent need to care for our common home, which is suffering from the constant and indiscriminate exploitation of its resources. Here I think especially of the Philippines, struck in these last weeks by a devastating typhoon, and of other nations in the Pacific, made vulnerable by the negative effects of climate change, which endanger the lives of their inhabitants, most of whom are dependent on agriculture, fishing and natural resources.

Precisely this realization should impel the international community as a whole to discover and implement common solutions. None may consider themselves exempt from this effort, since all of us are involved and affected in equal measure. At the recent COP26 in Glasgow, several steps were made in the right direction, even though they were rather weak in light of the gravity of the problem to be faced. The road to meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement is complex and appears to be long, while the time at our disposal is shorter and shorter. Much still remains to be done, and so 2022 will be another fundamental year for verifying to what extent and in what ways the decisions taken in Glasgow can and should be further consolidated in view of COP27, planned for Egypt next November.

Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen!

Dialogue and fraternity are two essential focal points in our efforts to overcome the crisis of the present moment. Yet “despite numerous efforts aimed at constructive dialogue between nations, the deafening noise of war and conflict is intensifying”. The entire international community must address the urgent need to find solutions to endless conflicts that at times appear as true proxy wars.

I think first of Syria, where the country’s rebirth does not yet clearly appear on the horizon. Even today, the Syrian people mourn their dead and the loss of everything, and continue to hope for a better future. Political and constitutional reforms are required for the country to be reborn, but the imposition of sanctions should not strike directly at everyday life, in order to provide a glimmer of hope to the general populace, increasingly caught in the grip of poverty.

Nor can we overlook the conflict in Yemen, a human tragedy that has gone on for years, silently, far from the spotlight of the media and with a certain indifference on the part of the international community, even as it continues to claim numerous civil victims, particularly women and children.

In the past year, no steps forward were made in the peace process between Israel and Palestine. I would truly like to see these two peoples rebuild mutual trust and resume speaking directly to each other, in order to reach the point where they can live in two states, side by side, in peace and security, without hatred and resentment, but the healing born of mutual forgiveness.

Other sources of concern are the institutional tensions in Libya, the episodes of violence by international terrorism in the Sahel region, and the internal conflicts in Sudan, South Sudan and Ethiopia, where there is need “to find once again the path of reconciliation and peace through a forthright encounter that places the needs of the people above all else”.

Profound situations of inequality and injustice, endemic corruption and various forms of poverty that offend the dignity of persons also continue to fuel social conflicts on the American continent, where growing polarization is not helping to resolve the real and pressing problems of its people, especially those who are most poor and vulnerable.

Reciprocal trust and readiness to engage in calm discussion should also inspire all parties at stake, so that acceptable and lasting solutions can be found in Ukraine and in the southern Caucasus, and the outbreak of new crises can be avoided in the Balkans, primarily in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Dialogue and fraternity are all the more urgently needed for dealing wisely and effectively with the crisis which for almost a year now has affected Myanmar; its streets, once places of encounter, are now the scene of fighting that does not spare even houses of prayer.

Naturally, these conflicts are exacerbated by the abundance of weapons on hand and the unscrupulousness of those who make every effort to supply them. At times, we deceive ourselves into thinking that these weapons serve to dissuade potential aggressors. History and, sadly, even daily news reports, make it clear that this is not the case. Those who possess weapons will eventually use them, since as Saint Paul VI observed, “a person cannot love with offensive weapons in his hands”. Furthermore, “When we yield to the logic of arms and distance ourselves from the practice of dialogue, we forget to our detriment that, even before causing victims and ruination, weapons can create nightmares”. Today these concerns have become even more real, if we consider the availability and employment of autonomous weapon systems that can have terrible and unforeseen consequences, and should be subject to the responsibility of the international community.

Among the weapons humanity has produced, nuclear arms are of particular concern. At the end of December last, the Tenth Review Conference of the parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, which was to meet in New York in these days, was once again postponed due to the pandemic. A world free of nuclear arms is possible and necessary. I therefore express my hope that the international community will view that Conference as an opportunity to take a significant step in this direction. The Holy See continues steadfastly to maintain that in the twenty-first century nuclear arms are an inadequate and inappropriate means of responding to security threats, and that possession of them is immoral. Their production diverts resources from integral human development and their employment not only has catastrophic humanitarian and environmental consequences, but also threatens the very existence of humanity.

The Holy See likewise considers it important that the resumption of negotiations in Vienna on the nuclear accord with Iran (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) achieve positive results, in order to guarantee a more secure and fraternal world.

Dear Ambassadors!

In my Message for the World Day of Peace celebrated on 1 January last, I sought to highlight several factors that I consider essential for promoting a culture of dialogue and fraternity.

Education holds a special place, since it trains the younger generation, the future and hope of the world. Education is in fact the primary vehicle of integral human development, for it makes individuals free and responsible. The educational process is slow and laborious, and can lead at times to discouragement, but we can never abandon it. It is an outstanding expression of dialogue, for no true education can lack a dialogical structure. Education likewise gives rise to culture and builds bridges of encounter between peoples. The Holy See wished to stress the importance of education also by its participation in Expo 2021 in Dubai, with a pavilion inspired by the theme of the Expo: “Connecting Minds, Creating the Future”.

The Catholic Church has always recognized and valued the role of education in the spiritual, moral and social growth of the young. It pains me, then, to acknowledge that in different educational settings – parishes and schools – the abuse of minors has occurred, resulting in serious psychological and spiritual consequences for those who experienced them. These are crimes, and they call for a firm resolve to investigate them fully, examining each case to ascertain responsibility, to ensure justice to the victims and to prevent similar atrocities from taking place in the future.

Despite the gravity of such acts, no society can ever abdicate its responsibility for education. Yet, regrettably, state budgets often allocate few resources for education, which tends to be viewed as an expense, instead of the best possible investment for the future.

The pandemic prevented many young people from attending school, to the detriment of their personal and social development. Modern technology enabled many young people to take refuge in virtual realities that create strong psychological and emotional links but isolate them from others and the world around them, radically modifying social relationships. In making this point, I in no way intend to deny the usefulness of technology and its products, which make it possible for us to connect with one another easily and quickly, but I do appeal urgently that we be watchful lest these instruments substitute for true human relationships at the interpersonal, familial, social and international levels. If we learn to isolate ourselves at an early age, it will later prove more difficult to build bridges of fraternity and peace. In a world where there is just “me”, it is difficult to make room for “us”.

The second thing that I would like to mention briefly is labour, “an indispensable factor in building and keeping peace. Labour is an expression of ourselves and our gifts, but also of our commitment, self-investment and cooperation with others, since we always work with or for someone else. Seen in this clearly social perspective, the workplace enables us to learn to make our contribution towards a more habitable and beautiful world”.

We have seen that the pandemic has sorely tested the global economy, with serious repercussions on those families and workers who experienced situations of psychological distress even before the onset of the economic troubles. This has further highlighted persistent inequalities in various social and economic sectors. Here we can include access to clean water, food, education and medical care. The number of people falling under the category of extreme poverty has shown a marked increase. In addition, the health crisis forced many workers to change professions, and in some cases forced them to enter the underground economy, causing them to lose the social protections provided for in many countries.

In this context, we see even more clearly the importance of labour, since economic development cannot exist without it, nor can it be thought that modern technology can replace the surplus value of human labour. Human labour provides an opportunity for the discovery of our personal dignity, for encounter with others and for human growth; it is a privileged means whereby each person participates actively in the common good and offers a concrete contribution to peace. Here too, greater cooperation is needed among all actors on the local, national, regional and global levels, especially in the short term, given the challenges posed by the desired ecological conversion. The coming years will be a time of opportunity for developing new services and enterprises, adapting existing ones, increasing access to dignified work and devising new means of ensuring respect for human rights and adequate levels of remuneration and social protection.

Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

The prophet Jeremiah tells us that God has “plans for [our] welfare and not for evil, to give [us] a future and a hope” (29:11). We should be unafraid, then, to make room for peace in our lives by cultivating dialogue and fraternity among one another. The gift of peace is “contagious”; it radiates from the hearts of those who long for it and aspire to share it, and spreads throughout the whole world. To each of you, your families and the peoples you represent, I renew my blessing and offer my heartfelt good wishes for a year of serenity and peace.

Thank you!


Laat een katholiek zich vaccineren tegen het Corona-virus?

door Lambert J.M. Hendriks en Frans J. van Ittersum

Vaccineren is waarschijnlijk nog nooit zo omstreden geweest als in deze periode, waarin de hele wereld in de ban is van vaccins tegen het corona-virus. Veel regeringsleiders hebben vanaf de eerste uitbraak van COVID-19 gehoopt dat het normale leven weer zou kunnen terugkeren als er een vaccin tegen dit virus zou worden gevonden. Sindsdien is er wereldwijd koortsachtig gezocht naar werkend vaccins. Inmiddels zijn er veel zorgen ontstaan over de vaccins die nu beschikbaar zijn of nog worden onderzocht. Die zorgen hebben dan vooral betrekking op twee dingen: op basis waarvan wordt een dergelijk vaccin geproduceerd en zorgt de snelheid van het proces op dit moment er niet voor dat er onzorgvuldigheden insluipen. Dit laatste lijkt tot nu toe overigens niet het geval te zijn. Er is met de nieuwere vaccintypes al getest bij mensen met bepaalde vormen van kanker rond 2000 en in laboratoria en proefdieren sinds de MERS-epidemie van 2012. Ook nu moet er nog steeds voldaan worden aan alle standaard zorgvuldigheidseisen voor onderzoek bij mensen. Alertheid voor problemen c.q. bijwerkingen op de middellange en lange termijn moet echter vanzelfsprekend blijven bestaan. Dat is niet anders dan bij andere geneesmiddelen: ook die komen op de markt voordat we mogelijk effecten op de lange termijn (meerdere jaren na toediening) kennen. Deze alertheid heeft er recent al toe geleid dat de vaccins van AstraZeneca en Janssen tijdelijk niet zijn gebruikt.

Het is belangrijk om vast te stellen dat vaccineren als zodanig vanuit Rooms-Katholiek perspectief geen ethische bezwaren oplevert. Medisch-ethisch is het moreel goed, om door middel van vaccinatie de werking van het immuunsysteem in het lichaam te activeren. Vanzelfsprekend is het geen verplichting (dit zou tegen het recht op de integriteit van het lichaam zijn), maar het hoort zeker bij de handelingen die moreel goed zijn, wanneer ze worden gesteld. Bijkomende goede motieven kunnen bijvoorbeeld bestaan uit de wens om ook anderen te beschermen tegen infectie, door de vaccinatie-graad (het percentage mensen in de bevolking dat gevaccineerd is) hoog te krijgen. Vanuit de Sociale Leer van de Kerk kan men stellen dat het aanbevelenswaardig is dat mensen zich laten vaccineren, als daar geen andere morele bezwaren of risico’s aan verbonden zijn, om zo verantwoordelijkheid voor elkaar te nemen (principe van socialiteit) en bij te dragen aan het Algemeen Welzijn (Bonum Commune).

Tegelijkertijd is het ook waar, dat er soms ethische bezwaren kunnen bestaan. Het vaccin kan bijvoorbeeld geproduceerd zijn op embryonale of foetale cellijnen. Deze cellijnen zijn ontstaan door een paar cellen die, meestal lang geleden, verkregen zijn van een embryo of een (geaborteerde) foetus verder te kweken, vervolgens door manipulatie te veranderen en daarna te laten vermenigvuldigen in een laboratorium. Ze verliezen hierdoor deels hun oorspronkelijke eigenschappen, maar kunnen wel eigenschappen behouden of verkrijgen waardoor ze interessant zijn voor wetenschappelijk onderzoek of productie van geneesmiddelen of vaccins. Hoe de morele beoordeling hiervan kan zijn, volgt verderop.

De vaccins tegen het Corona-virus die tot nu toe in de media zijn gekomen, maken gebruik van verschillende technieken om in het menselijk lichaam werkzaam te kunnen zijn. Een paar voorbeelden hiervan zijn de volgende. De vaccins van Valneva (waar de EU een optie op heeft) en Sinovac (dat in China wordt geproduceerd) lijken op klassieke vaccins tegen mazelen, rode hond etc: ze bevatten geïnactiveerd virus dat is gekweekt op Vero cellen (cellen die verkregen zijn uit de nieren van grivetapen). De zeven andere vaccins die door de Europese Unie zijn aangekocht bevatten zelf geen levend, verzwakt of gefragmenteerd virus. De vaccins van Sanofi en Novavax bevatten een molecuul dat op het oppervlak van het Coronavirus voorkomt en dat is geproduceerd in een Baculovirussysteem, dat gebruik maakt van virussen die bij insecten voorkomen. Het levert naar verwachting een reactie van het afweersysteem op die lijkt op die van de klassieke vaccins. Bij de controle na de productie van het vaccin van Novavax wordt gebruik gemaakt van HEK293-cellen. Deze HEK293-cellen zijn ontwikkeld uit cellen uit de nieren van een Nederlandse foetus uit 1972 of 1973. Of deze foetus was geaborteerd of spontaan als miskraam ter wereld was gekomen, is onduidelijk. De onderzoekers die de cellijn ontwikkelden, wisten het niet of niet meer; door anderen is gesuggereerd dat het aannemelijk is dat de cellen wèl van een geaborteerde foetus afkomstig waren.

De aanvankelijk vijf andere door de EU aangekochte vaccins maken gebruik van een nieuwere techniek. Ze bevatten mRNA (Pfizer, Moderna, CureVac) of DNA in een vector (AstraZeneca / Universiteit van Oxford, Janssen). De vaccins van Pfizer en Moderna zijn in een chemisch laboratorium gemaakt. Ook hier wordt gebruik gemaakt van HEK293-cellen voor controle na de productie. De DNA-vector in het AstraZeneca vaccin wordt geproduceerd op HEK293-cellen. Voor de ontwikkeling en productie van het vaccin van Janssen wordt gebruik gemaakt van PER.C6 cellen. Deze zijn rond 1996 voortgekomen uit HER199 cellen die weer voortkomen uit onrijpe cellen van het netvlies van een Nederlands embryo. Het mRNA-vaccin van CureVac (Duitsland) waarvan de ontwikkeling begin oktober 2021 werd gestaakt, werd niet geproduceerd op cellijnen. Voor de controletesten werden HeLa-cellen (baarmoederhalskankercellen die zonder medeweten zijn verkregen van Henrietta Lacks, die in 1951 aan haar ziekte overleed) gebruikt. Bij de productie van al langer bestaande vaccins tegen rodehond, waterpokken en gordelroos (herpes zoster), ebola, polio en hondsdolheid (rabies) worden twee andere cellijnen gebruikt die afkomstig zijn van geaborteerde foetussen uit de zestiger jaren. Het Russische Sputnik V vaccin, dat niet door de EU is aangekocht, maakt, evenals de vaccins van AstraZeneca en Janssen, gebruik van een DNA-vector die zeer waarschijnlijk wordt geproduceerd op HEK293-cellen.

Bovenstaande roept de vraag op hoe we nu aan moeten kijken tegen het gebruik van deze cellijnen voor de ontwikkeling van vaccins. Met het gebruik van embryonale of foetale cellen kan de R.K. Kerk nooit instemmen, omdat embryo’s en foetussen nooit en te nimmer opgeofferd mogen worden voor welk doel dan ook. De handeling van weleer, het verkrijgen van de oorspronkelijk cellen van deze embryo’s of foetussen, is zeer afkeurenswaardig . Toch heeft de Congregatie voor de Geloofsleer in hetzelfde document gesteld dat ernstige redenen, zoals gevaar voor de gezondheid (b.v. een pandemie), een goede reden kunnen zijn om een vaccin dat ontwikkeld of geproduceerd is op deze cellijnen, die na lange tijd weinig of geen verband meer hebben met de oorspronkelijke embryonale of foetale cellen, toch te gebruiken . In december 2020 heeft de Congregatie voor de Geloofsleer dit standpunt m.b.t. de vaccins tegen het coronavirus bevestigd . De CvG voegt daar wel twee dingen aan toe. Allereerst moet men bij gebruik van deze vaccins dan wel zelf of middels aanmoediging van anderen blijven zoeken naar mogelijkheden om vaccins te produceren, waarbij dit ethisch dilemma geen rol meer speelt. Daarnaast stelt de CvG dat mensen die er in geweten toch voor kiezen een dergelijk vaccin niet te nemen, niet ontslagen zijn van de verantwoordelijkheid voor het algemeen welzijn: deze mensen moeten door extra strenge quarantaine- en andere voorzorgsmaatregelen er zorg voor dragen dat zij het virus niet verder verspreiden. Het categorisch afwijzen van vaccins of geneesmiddelen waarbij bij de ontwikkeling of productie gebruikt gemaakt is van materiaal dat in het verre verleden een immorele oorsprong had, is dus niet altijd nodig.

De werking van de vijf nieuwere vaccins is dat het mRNA of vector-DNA in cellen in het menselijke lichaam komt waardoor deze lichaamscellen een oppervlakte-eiwit, dat op het SARS-CoV-2-virus voorkomt, gaan produceren. Het menselijke lichaam begint tegen dit eiwit een afweerreactie (aanmaak van antistoffen). De vector is een verzwakt adenovirus dat van apen afkomstig is en helpt om een stukje DNA dat codeert voor hetzelfde oppervlakte-eiwit als hierboven genoemd de cel in te krijgen. De cellen reageren er op een volstrekt natuurlijke (en menselijke) manier op. De morele handeling bestaat in deze context uit het aanzetten van het menselijk lichaam tot het opbouwen van bescherming voor zijn eigen behoud en functioneren.

Volgens sommigen zou het in het lichaam brengen van mRNA of DNA een vorm van genetische manipulatie zijn. Dit is echter zeker onjuist: het mRNA verandert zeer waarschijnlijk het eigen DNA van de mens niet. Het vaccin-DNA zou het menselijk DNA in sommige cellen wel kunnen veranderen, maar het is belangrijk om dit goed te begrijpen. Ook virussen kunnen zelf menselijk DNA veranderen tijdens een infectie. Sommige veranderingen worden zelfs nog in het DNA overgeërfd. Dit is echter iets anders dan wat met genetische manipulatie wordt bedoeld. In dat laatste geval is de handeling erop gericht het DNA te veranderen en dan ook nog met het doel om betere eigenschappen van het organisme te bewerken. In het geval van vaccinatie gaat het niet alleen om het genezen van een ziekte, maar bovendien is de wijziging in het DNA in het geheel niet bedoeld. Daarmee is het niet vergelijkbaar met genetische manipulatie.

Dat voorzichtigheid en prudentie nodig is bij het omgaan met de eigen gezondheid, is een belangrijke vanzelfsprekendheid. Daarom is het in principe ook alleen maar toe te juichen, wanneer mensen afwachtend zijn en niet zonder nadenken een vaccinatie accepteren. Problematisch is wel de ontzettend grote stroom aan desinformatie die er op gang is gekomen, in combinatie met een ernstig en vaak ongefundeerd wantrouwen. In potentie, kan dit ertoe leiden dat er veel meer mensen ziek worden dan nodig is. Ook zijn er oproepen van katholieke gelovigen, priesters en bisschoppen de vaccins waarbij in de productie of controle gebruik gemaakt is van de immoreel verkregen cellijnen, niet te laten toedienen. Vaak dateren hun inschattingen van voor de publicatie van de CvG. Het is voor Rooms-katholieken belangrijk om zich te realiseren dat de CvG als taak heeft in allerlei moeilijke theologische en moraaltheologische (ethische) discussies een weloverwogen eindoordeel te geven.

Hopelijk kan een goede en transparante informatievoorziening over alle aspecten van de vaccins ervoor zorgen dat mensen met een gerust hart een vaccinatie accepteren. Natuurlijk is nooit vooraf voor de volle 100% te garanderen dat er geen onvoorziene problemen zullen zijn, maar het is wel zinvol dat men zich realiseert dat dit voor werkelijk alle medische ingrepen geldt. Een belangrijke conclusie is dat er vanuit een Rooms-Katholiek perspectief geen redenen zijn om op voorhand een vaccinatie tegen het Corona-virus af te wijzen.

Meer informatie over Preventieve Geneeskunde en Vaccinatie in Handboek Katholieke Medische Ethiek (aanvullingen vanaf 2019) of het artikel Vaccinatie: door God verboden of juist mogelijk gemaakt ? van dezelfde auteurs als dit website artikel.

Dr. Lambert J.M. Hendriks is priester, moraaltheoloog, rector van het Grootseminarie Rolduc en voorzitter van de Katholieke Stichting Medische Ethiek (KSME)

Prof.dr. Frans J. van Ittersum is internist-nefroloog en voorzitter van het Netwerk Katholieke Zorgprofessionals Nederland (een KSME werkgroep)


Oproep kerkelijke leiders in Europa: ‘Laat je vaccineren!’

Joint appeal from the presidents of COMECE and CEC
European Churches urge people to get vaccinated against COVID-19

COMECE, 14 december 2021

Urging responsibility and care amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and encouraging vaccination together with necessary sanitary measures, H.Em. Card. Jean-Claude Hollerich SJ, President of the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union (COMECE), and Rev. Christian Krieger, President of the Conference of European Churches (CEC), have issued the following joint appeal.

In this time of Advent, let us manifest Christ’s love by demonstrating responsibility and care for all. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues into a second year, European Churches encourage everyone to observe necessary sanitary measures and get vaccinated.

According to the reports, COVID-19 infections are still on the rise in Europe, while doctors and paramedics are exhausted and hospitals face the risk of imminent collapse.

Varying vaccination rates throughout Europe offer clear indications of the reasons for this dramatic situation. In several Member States of the European Union, the uptake of full vaccination, unfortunately, still remains much below the needed threshold for stemming the spread of the virus, although vaccines are available.

Subsequent to listening to experts in science and medicine, we believe that vaccination is currently the most effective way to counter the pandemic and save human lives. Vaccination offers protection not only to ourselves but also to our brothers and sisters, particularly the more fragile among us. It is thus an act of love and care and also one of responsibility and social justice.

We recognise that the decision to get vaccinated may not be easy and reasons to be hesitant may be manifold. Some may not be able to receive the vaccination due to serious medical conditions. Others may be afraid or doubtful of its effects. We encourage them to clarify their concerns and take a well-informed decision after having sought professional advice from competent authorities and experts.

Regrettably, we are also witnessing the spread of false information and unfounded claims in our societies with regard to vaccination, instrumentalising the pandemic by causing fear and polarisation at a time when our societies need cohesion, unity and solidarity.

We strongly appeal to all who bear responsibility in society, including political and media actors, as well as members of our Churches, to counter any attempts of disinformation.

We call on all societal actors to raise the awareness of everyone and encourage them to take responsible actions to protect themselves and others, particularly those who cannot be vaccinated for health or other reasons.

We also wish to reiterate our call to the European Union and its Member States to fulfill their vaccine-sharing pledges and step up global efforts towards ensuring an equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines for all, including in regions with weaker health systems.

While we prepare to celebrate Christmas, let us remember: “A voice cries: In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God (Isaiah 40.3)”. God sent His son to earth to express His love and care for us. This good news remains very relevant today. Let us give living witness to it, let us show responsibility and care.


Joint appeal from the presidents of COMECE and CEC European Churches urge people to get vaccinated against COVID-19

Urging responsibility and care amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and encouraging vaccination together with necessary sanitary measures, H.Em. Card. Jean-Claude Hollerich SJ, President of the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union (COMECE), and Rev. Christian Krieger, President of the Conference of European Churches (CEC), have issued the following joint appeal.

In this time of Advent, let us manifest Christ’s love by demonstrating responsibility and care for all. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues into a second year, European Churches encourage everyone to observe necessary sanitary measures and get vaccinated.

According to the reports, COVID-19 infections are still on the rise in Europe, while doctors and paramedics are exhausted and hospitals face the risk of imminent collapse.

Varying vaccination rates throughout Europe offer clear indications of the reasons for this dramatic situation. In several Member States of the European Union, the uptake of full vaccination, unfortunately, still remains much below the needed threshold for stemming the spread of the virus, although vaccines are available.

Subsequent to listening to experts in science and medicine, we believe that vaccination is currently the most effective way to counter the pandemic and save human lives. Vaccination offers protection not only to ourselves but also to our brothers and sisters, particularly the more fragile among us. It is thus an act of love and care and also one of responsibility and social justice.

We recognise that the decision to get vaccinated may not be easy and reasons to be hesitant may be manifold. Some may not be able to receive the vaccination due to serious medical conditions. Others may be afraid or doubtful of its effects. We encourage them to clarify their concerns and take a wellinformed decision after having sought professional advice from competent authorities and experts.

Regrettably, we are also witnessing the spread of false information and unfounded claims in our societies with regard to vaccination, instrumentalising the pandemic by causing fear and polarisation at a time when our societies need cohesion, unity and solidarity.

We strongly appeal to all who bear responsibility in society, including political and media actors, as well as members of our Churches, to counter any attempts of disinformation. We call on all societal actors to raise the awareness of everyone and encourage them to take responsible actions to protect themselves and others, particularly those who cannot be vaccinated for health or other reasons.

We also wish to reiterate our call to the European Union and its Member States to fulfill their vaccinesharing pledges and step up global efforts towards ensuring an equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines for all, including in regions with weaker health systems.

While we prepare to celebrate Christmas, let us remember: “A voice cries: In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God (Isaiah 40.3)”. God sent His son to earth to express His love and care for us. This good news remains very relevant today. Let us give living witness to it, let us show responsibility and care.


Vaccinatie: een morele plicht, maar geen juridische

Katholiek Nieuwsblad, 5 november 2021
door Willem kardinaal Eijk, aartsbisschop van Utrecht en medisch ethicus

Is het een morele plicht om je te laten vaccineren tegen Covid-19, zoals wel wordt gezegd? En zo ja, kan een overheid of werkgever mensen dan ook juridisch tot vaccinatie verplichten?

Het fundamentele principe van de katholieke sociale leer is het algemeen welzijn. Dat houdt onder meer in dat de levens en de gezondheid van mensen moeten worden beschermd. Een regering draagt hier de eerste verantwoordelijkheid voor en kan dus maatregelen opleggen om levens te beschermen, zoals lockdowns, afstandsregels of een ‘coronapas’. Dit wordt vaak gezien als een inbreuk op de vrijheid van het individu, maar autonomie is niet absoluut. Regeringen hebben het recht en zelfs de plicht om die in te perken als dat nodig is om een pan-demie tegen te gaan.

De vaccinatievraag heeft twee kanten. De maatschappelijke vraag is of vaccinatie vanuit het oogpunt van het algemeen welzijn een morele plicht is. De persoonlijke vraag is of vaccinatie voor het individu een proportioneel middel is om zijn leven te beschermen.

Het antwoord hangt af van drie voorwaarden: vaccins moeten bewezen effectief zijn; er moet een goede balans zijn tussen de gezondheidsrisico’s die je met vaccins voorkomt, en hun bijwerkingen; en de vaccins moeten op moreel goede of minstens te rechtvaardigen wijze zijn gemaakt.

Bijzonder bezwaar

De in het Westen gebruikte vaccins beschermen behoorlijk tot zeer goed tegen infectie met het coronavirus. Ja, gevaccineerden kunnen besmet raken door varianten, maar worden dan vaak minder ziek en zijn minder besmettelijk. Bezien vanuit het algemeen welzijn en de plicht je leven te beschermen, is vaccinatie een moreel goede daad en misschien ook een plicht.

Zoals alle middelen hebben vaccins bijwerkingen. De meest voorkomende zijn soms pittig, maar onschuldig. Ernstige bijwerkingen zijn zeer zeldzaam.

Een bijzonder bezwaar tegen sommige vaccins is dat bij de ontwikkeling, productie en/of testfase ervan, cellijnen zijn gebruikt die gekweekt zijn uit cellen van foetussen die, vaak decennia geleden, werden geaborteerd. Een menselijke foetus direct aborteren is een ernstig en intrinsiek kwaad, en nooit moreel gerechtvaardigd. Maar de klassieke moraaltheologie hanteert al eeuwen een casuïstiek om zulke absolute normen toe te passen. Bij de vaccins gaat het dan om het principe van medewerking aan het kwaad: in hoeverre zijn makers en ontvangers ervan betrokken bij de abortus?

Vertrekpunt is datje niet mag meewerken aan het kwaad dat anderen doen. Maar dat kun je niet categorisch weigeren. Zo volgt uit gewetensbezwaren tegen overheidsprojecten niet dat je mag weigeren de belasting te betalen waarmee je bijdraagt aan het algemeen welzijn.

Als we het met abortus eens zijn, dan is er ‘formele’ medewerking; doen we dat niet, dan is die ‘materieel’. Formele medewerking aan het kwaad is nooit toegestaan; materiële soms, als die indirect is.

Als je abortus niet goedkeurt en niet direct betrokken was bij de abortus waaruit de cellijnen voortkomen, is de medewerking materieel, indirect en veraf (of zeer veraf als je het vaccin krijgt). Het coronavirus kan ernstige ziektes veroorzaken, kent relatief hoge sterftecijfers en kan het sociaaleconomische leven ontwrichten.
Vaccins zijn de enige manier om de pandcmie terug te dringen. Materiële, indirecte en verre medewerking aan de genoemde abortus door vaccins te maken of ontvangen, is dan gerechtvaardigd. Wel moeten we, zoals de Amerikaanse bisschoppen stelden, indien mogelijk een vaccin kiezen waarbij de cellijnen zo weinig mogelijk zijn gebruikt.

Mogen overheden vervolgens vaccinatie juridisch verplichten met een beroep op het algemeen welzijn? Nee. Vaccinatie is een ingreep in de lichamelijke integriteit van een persoon, die daar vrij en verantwoordelijk mee moet instemmen. Niemand mag iets doen dat volgens zijn geweten een kwaad is, ook niet als dat geweten misschien dwaalt. En niemand mag daartoe worden gedwongen. Wie geen vaccin wil, moet wel de gangbare coronamaatregelen in acht nemen.

Een uitzondering is de zorg. Ethisch gezien mag een zorginstelling personeel dat met kwetsbare mensen werkt, vragen zich te laten vaccineren, en weigeren hun daar te laten werken als ze dat niet doen.

Paus Franciscus noemde vaccinatie tegen Covid-19 een “daad van liefde”, een “simpele maar diepe manier om voor elkaar te zorgen”. Wie zich laat vaccineren, toont ook respect voor het recht op leven van zijn medemens. Misschien vereist ook de rechtvaardigheid dus vaccinatie. Het is ook een proportionele manier om je eigen leven te beschermen. Vaccinatie tegen Covid-19 is vanuit dat oogpunt een morele plicht.

Dit artikel is een ingekorte versie van een lezing die kardinaal Eijk onlangs in Rome hield.


Ethische vragen betreffende COVID-19 vaccins

Voice of the Family, 23 October 2021

By H.E. Willem Jacobus Cardinal Eijk

The following talk was given at Voice of the Family’s conference “Health of the sick and salvation of souls – Church and society in this dark hour of history”, held in Rome on 23 October 2021.

The Covid-19 pandemic is a source of many vehement debates in both classical and social media. This presentation concerns the question of whether the use of Covid-19 vaccines is justifiable and perhaps also obligatory or – quite the contrary – illicit. The question of whether Covid-19 vaccination might be compulsory will also be discussed.

The basic ethical questions

The basic question concerning Covid-19 vaccination is whether there is a moral obligation to be vaccinated. This is a question with personal-ethical and socio-ethical aspects.

The most fundamental principle of Catholic social teaching is that of the common good, in Latin the bonum commune. This is the totality of the conditions which must be fulfilled in order to guarantee the integral human development of each member of society. One of these conditions is clearly that the lives and health of the members of society should be protected. All members of society are supposed to contribute to the common good in one or another way, but they are themselves always the end of the common good. They are not subordinate to the common good as means to an end, like a collective type of ethics, such as fascism and communism, which suppose that the individual can be sacrificed in pursuit of the common good of society.

The main responsibility for the common good lies with the government. The government can, therefore, impose measures on the members of society in order to contribute to the common good, especially in as far as the lives of vulnerable people are involved, like lockdowns, regular sterilization of hands and maintaining a certain distance between one and another. This is poorly understood by contemporary hyper-individualist culture, which feels this as an infringement on the freedom of the human individual. However, autonomy is not an absolute principle. On the basis of its special responsibility for the common good government may impose measures on the members of society to protect and guarantee the lives and health of the members of society, also within the framework of the Covid-19 pandemic. Our present hyper-individualist neoliberal culture does not understand or accept the principle of the common good as fundamental for social ethics. It, therefore, fails to comprehend that governments have the right and even the obligation to limit the freedom of citizens to a certain extent, if that is needed in order to prevent infectious agents, like the Covid-19 virus, from spreading among the population. Individualist culture, therefore, frequently protests against the government measures taken with that aim, like lockdowns, maintaining distances from one another and the requirement to show a vaccination certificate (green pass) or proof of a negative Covid-19 test in order to have access to restaurants, theaters and events.

On the other hand, one also should take seriously the objections of people who point at – or suffer themselves from – the damage which some measures to prevent the Covid-19 viruses from spreading, such as lockdowns, cause to the economy. These measures, though contributing to the common good, also have negative effects on it. Another negative aspect which governments have to take into account from the perspective of the common good is the fact that the care for Covid-19 patients renders treatments for other diseases and disorders difficult, for instance, oncological treatments or orthopedic interventions, which are also necessary and cannot be easily postponed. The question of how best to serve the common good in practice is a complicated question.

The central socio-ethical question is whether being vaccinated is an act of love or perhaps also a moral obligation from the perspective of the common good because by being vaccinated we also protect the lives and health of our fellow human beings. Another important ethical question from the perspective of personal ethics is whether vaccination is for the individual person a proportionate means to protect his own life. For he is obliged to make use of proportionate means to save or protect his life by applying proportionate means.

The answer to both questions depends on fulfilling three conditions:

  1. The effectiveness of the vaccines should be proven;
  2. There should be a proportional ratio between two sets of factors: on the one hand the risk of dying from a Covid-19 infection, the gravity of this illness and the gravity of its effects which remain in the long run and the effectiveness and the duration of the effectiveness of the vaccines in preventing Covid 19-infections and the spread of the virus: on the other hand, the collateral effects of the vaccines;
  3. The vaccines should be designed, developed and produced in a morally good or at least morally justifiable way.

Are the vaccines available in the Western world effective?

The Pfizer vaccine protects against admission to hospital within 24 to 28 days after the first injection in 91% of the people vaccinated. AstraZeneca does the same in 88%. The Pfizer vaccine and the Moderna vaccines yield protection of more than 90% against Covid-19, after full vaccination, which implies two injections of the vaccine, AstraZeneca 69-80% (also after the second injection) and the Janssen vaccine 60% after one injection. The Janssen vaccine, though less effective, is used nonetheless, especially in order to get that part of the population vaccinated, which is less easily reached because it requires only one injection.

The duration of the effectiveness of the vaccines is uncertain. The effectiveness of some vaccines, Pizer and AstraZeneca, seems to weaken by 20 weeks after the second injection, significantly against symptomatic disease but in a limited measure, against hospitalization and death in case of infection by the Delta variant especially in people older than 65 years of age. Booster doses seem to be needed, above all in elderly people.

The conclusion is that by being vaccinated with the existing Covid-19 vaccines we are quite well or very well protected against infection by the Covid-19 virus. Being vaccinated is undoubtedly a great contribution to the common good by protecting the health and lives of our fellow human beings. And though people vaccinated can incur an infection by variants of the virus, like the Delta variant, in most cases they get less ill and the chance of transmitting the virus to others is smaller. In this respect, we could conclude that being vaccinated is a good moral act – and perhaps also a morally obligatory one – from the perspective of the common good and from that of our personal obligation to protect our own lives.

Are Covid-19 vaccines safe?

Like all medicaments and means to prevent diseases, Covid-19 vaccines have collateral effects. The following table shows the frequent but innocent – though sometimes nasty – side effects of the most widely used vaccines.

Collateral effect  Pfizer/BioNTech  Moderna  AstraZeneca  Janssen
Tiredness  12%  31%  62%  48%
Aching muscles   12%  32%  57%  39%
Shivers  3%  12%  57%  35%
Pain at the place of the injection  20%  51%  51%  33%
Nausea  2%  10%  27%  17%
Fever  1%  6%  35%  20%
Not feeling very well  8%  24%  63%  45%
Headache  9%  22%  66%  48%

These collateral effects, which occur shortly after the injection of the vaccine, last between one and three days. Pain and fever can be treated with paracetamol. They are mostly observed with the AstraZeneca vaccine. The EMA (European Medicines Agency) in its safety update of the Janssen vaccine of September 8, 2021, also reports the following side effects of this vaccine:

Side Effect Frequency Estimated as
Swollen Lymph nodes Less than 1 in 1,000 rare
Unusual feeling in the skin (tingling or a crawling feeling) or decreased feeling in the skin Less than 1 in 100 uncommon
Tinnitus (persistent ringing in the ears) Less than 1 in 1,000 rare
Diarrhea and vomiting  Less than 1 in 100 uncommon

Some more serious side effects of the Janssen vaccine still must be assessed by the EMA on the basis of available data: multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MIS, an inflammatory disease affecting many parts of the body) and venous thromboembolism (distinct from TTS, see below), reported after administration of the Janssen vaccine, are suspected but not yet proven side effects.

The vaccines can, however, cause very serious side effects. The Janssen and AstraZeneca vaccines may bring about a condition in which the formation of blood clots (thrombosis) is combined with low levels of blood platelets (this is called thrombosis thrombocytopenia syndrome, abbreviated as TTS). It is, however, a very rare side effect. In the United States on May 7, 2021, after 8.73 million Janssen Covid-19 vaccine doses had been administered, the following frequency of TTS was reported:


Females
Males
Age group TTScases Doses administered Reporting rate per million TTS cases Does administered Reporting rate per million
18-29 years old 3 641,510 4.7 2 714,458 2.8
30-39 years old 8 642,745 12,4 1 728,699 1.4
40-49 years old 7 743,256 9,4 1 775,390 1.3
50-64 years old 4 1,462,416 2.7 2 1,505,505 1.3
65+ years old 0 814,947 0 0 697,925 0

It seems advisable not to administer the Janssen vaccine to people younger than 60 years of age, especially females. Some countries (Denmark, Norway and Finland banned the administration of the Janssen vaccine. Belgium for the time being decided not to administer this vaccine to people of 40 years of age and younger. The same side effect is caused by the AstraZeneca vaccine in less than 0.01%.

Myocarditis – apart from other collateral effects – was reported as a potentially serious side effect of the Pfizer vaccine. Its frequency in a nationwide research project in Israel turned out on average to be 2.7 cases in 100,000 people. On the other hand, the possibility of getting myocarditis by Covid-19 is substantially higher, i.e. 11 per 100,000.

Accepting collateral (indirect) effects may be justified on the basis of the principle of double effect. The intended (direct) effect is immunization of the person being vaccinated against Covid-19. The second effect concerns the collateral effects. Accepting these may be justifiable when the following three conditions have been fulfilled:

  1. The intended effect is morally good;
  2. The intended effect is not caused by the collateral effect; otherwise, it would be the means to realize the intended effect and not a collateral effect; the side effects of the Covid-19 vaccines are not the cause of the immunization of the person vaccinated;
  3. There should be a proportionally grave reason for admitting the side effects. Whether such a proportionally grave reason exists, is determined by diverse factors: what is the death rate of Covid-19, how serious is the disease and its consequences compared to those of the vaccines and are the vaccines the only means available in order to slow down or stop the pandemic?

How do the death rates and the seriousness of injuries as collateral effects of the vaccines compare with those of Covid-19?

It is sometimes asserted that Covid-19 would only appear to be a severe flu, with only a slightly higher death rate than ordinary influenza. However, that is not true, according to Woolf and Lee. On the basis of their study Howard Koh and others state that “COVID-19 ranks as a leading cause of death; at certain times, it is the leading cause of death”, compared to heart diseases and cancer in the Western world. They observe that the death rate of Covid-19 is variable, depending very much on seasonal influences, ethnic differences and differences between the male and female populations and the measures governments take in order to prevent Covid-19 viruses from spreading. It also depends on the application of effective therapeutic means, gradually discovered and applied, like monoclonal antibody treatments, remdesivir (an antiviral drug) and dexamethasone (a corticosteroid suppressing inflammatory diseases).

Pifarré i Arollas and others examined on the basis of two large databases the number of life-years lost due to Covid-19 in 81 highly developed countries. In 31 countries the data spanned a period of 9 months. Their study concerned in total 1,279,866 deaths. They concluded that from January 6, 2021, the life-years lost due to Covid-19 were between two and nine times that of seasonal influenza. Three-quarters of the life-years lost to Covid-19 were attributable to deaths in ages below 75 years of age and almost a third, to deaths in ages below 55 years of age. Elderly people are at a higher risk to die from Covid-19, especially because of a higher rate of respiratory syndromes among them. However, young people may die from Covid as well and, having higher life expectancies, lose more life-years. A striking difference exists between men and women because men lose 45% more life-years than women. This is partly due to the higher average life expectancy of women. However, the absolute number of deaths due to Covid-19 was also higher among men. Anyhow, it is clear that Covid-19 is much more serious than seasonal influenza with respect to the death rates.

Acute severe respiratory syndrome is a result of a very grave pneumonia, caused by the virus and often worsened by an additional bacterial infection. It may lead to sepsis which affects other organs as well. The pneumonia is often complicated by severe thromboembolism in the lungs. Emboli by blood clots can also occur elsewhere in the blood circulation, often causing myocardial infarctions and brain infarctions. The second cause of death is renal failure. Covid-19 may affect any organ. Multi-organ failure, in which especially the liver is involved, and even general organ failure are also reported. Nor should we underestimate the gravity of Covid-19 when this does not result in the patient’s death. Invasive ventilation and artificial respiration are often warranted. Recovering after longstanding artificial respiration requires a long period of rehabilitation, in which the patient has to train his breathing muscles with the aid of physiotherapy.

Apart from the severe acute effects of Covid, we have to take into account the gravity of long Covid-19. After discharge from hospital, patients, after having suffered from severe acute respiratory syndrome, may be confronted with longstanding pathological conditions and symptoms, the cause of which cannot be easily explained. It is reported that circa 110 days after admission to hospital, either to the ward or to the intensive care unit. patients said to suffer from the following persistent symptoms: mostly fatigue (55%), shortness of breath (42%), loss of memory (34%), concentration (28%) and sleep disorders (30.8%) and loss of hair (20%). No statistically significant differences regarding these symptoms were observed between who were admitted only to the ward or to the intensive care unit.

However, patients who had only mild symptoms at the beginning and have not been hospitalized can have long Covid too. An study of patients with mostly mild symptoms at the start of Covid, initially observing 442 non-hospitalized, of which only 353 finally participated in the trial, after four and seven months found after four months: 8.6% had shortness of breath, 12.3 % lacked the ability to smell, 11.1% lacked the ability to taste and 9.7% suffered from fatigue. After seven months 14.7% still suffered from the loss of the ability to smell, 13.6% from shortness of breath, 14.7% of fatigue and 11% from the loss of the ability to taste (that these percentages are higher is explained by the considerable drop out of participants between four and seven months). However, they also developed other symptoms at seven months: headache (3.7%), loss of hair (2.5%) and diarrhea (1.1%).

All this makes clear that Covid-19 is most certainly a very serious disease and definitely not something like a severe form of influenza. Moreover, as we observed above, Covid-19 is a very heavy burden for health care and blocks the application of treatments, also needed, for other diseases and disabilities.

Anyhow, let us compare the various facts, enumerated above, with one another. The diseases caused by Covid-19 are very severe and its death rate is quite high. Care for Covid-19 patients causes huge problems to the whole of health care. The Covid-19 vaccines are effective and are, at the moment, the only means to slow down or stop the pandemic. Comparing these factors with their collateral effects, of which the most severe occur very rarely, one may conclude that the use of Covid-19 vaccines meets the conditions of the principle of double effect. The risk of getting side effects of Covid-19 vaccines is therefore justifiable.

A special ethical objection raised against the way in which vaccines are designed, developed, produced and tested

A special objection against the use of some Covid-19 vaccines is that they have been designed, developed, and/or produced and/or that their effectiveness has been verified by using cell lines which derive from human embryos, often aborted decades ago, even in the 1960s and early 1970s. This raises the serious question of whether the development, production or use of these vaccines is cooperation with the abortion of the human fetus, albeit that this was procured decades ago.

Undoubtedly, procured (direct) abortion of a human fetus is a grave intrinsic evil, for it implies the killing of an innocent human being, created in the image of God. Procured abortion, therefore, falls under an absolute moral norm, which means that it is always morally illicit, without any exception, regardless of the intention and the circumstances (indirect abortion, i.e. abortion as a collateral effect of a medical and surgical intervention, for instance, the removal of the uterus affected by cancer in the case of a pregnant woman, may be justifiable on the basis of the principle of double effect). We owe respect to the essential value of human life from conception till natural death.

It is true that faithful Catholics recognize the Church’s teaching on absolute norms, in this case, the norm concerning the absolute prohibition of procured abortion, but that often they do not know about the casuistry of classical moral theology. The principles of this casuistry were developed from the sixteenth century and generally taught till the end of the 1950s and the first half of the 1960s. At that time seminarians frequently protested against the teaching of casuistry under the influence of what was called by the time “the new morality”, especially promoted by Fletcher and the Anglican bishop of Woolwich, John Robinson. In their view, there is no intrinsic evil. Many Roman-Catholic moral theologians replaced classical moral theology with new moral-theological theories, which imply that the concrete moral act cannot be an object of mortal sin or that no intrinsic evil exists on the level of the concrete moral act. Concrete acts could not, therefore, be the object of moral absolutes. These theories initially served to justify the use of direct contraception. They limit intrinsic evil to the formal level, like the intention for, and the attitude with which one acts. The denial of the existence of intrinsically evil concrete acts implies that at the level of the concrete acts a smaller evil, like procured abortion and direct contraception, could be permitted in order to realize a greater good. Consequently, the principles of casuistry which classical moral theology used in order to apply moral absolutes in difficult cases became superfluous. The consequence is these principles were often no longer taught and fell into oblivion. Contemporary Catholics, who accept the Church’s teaching on intrinsic evil, therefore, often do not know about them.

I have already applied one of these principles above, that of the act with double effect, and will do so with the principle of cooperation in evil below. Concerning the question of whether creating vaccines by means of the use of human cell lines derived from aborted human fetuses, one should evaluate the measure of involvement in the abortion from the perspective of the designer, the developer and the producer of the vaccine, and the person who is vaccinated with it. This involvement is evaluated by applying the principle of cooperation in evil, largely developed by Saint Alphonsus Maria de Liguori (the patron saint of moral theologians, 1696-1787) in the eighteenth century.

The application of the principle of cooperation in evil

The point of departure is, of course, that one should not cooperate in the evil acts of others. It is however impossible to refuse that categorically. Cooperation in evil might even be obliged, however contradictory that may seem to be. In certain cases, people may have conscientious objections against acts or projects financed by the State, for instance in the field of education concerning gender theory. This does however not mean that they are therefore allowed to refuse to pay taxes. The inhabitants of the State remain obliged to do so on the basis of their obligation to contribute to the common good by paying taxes. By paying the premium for our health insurance, in many cases, we also pay for procured abortion, euthanasia or sex reassignment procedures in transgenders, but it is a moral obligation to have health insurance in order to safeguard our lives and health and those of others for the sake of solidarity.

The principle of cooperation in evil implies two distinctions in order to establish whether one is allowed to contribute to an evil act of another person in a certain case. The first concerns the intention of the act. The most basic question is: does one share the intention of the act of the principle-agent or not? In the first case, the cooperation is termed “formal”, in the second case “material”. When people designing, developing and/or producing vaccines, and/or confirming their effectiveness or those being vaccinated with them agree with the direct abortion from which the human cell lines needed were derived, their form of cooperation is evil. One should, however, never act with an evil intention. Formal cooperation with evil is therefore never allowed. Of course, this only concerns people who are aware of the fact that the vaccine has been designed, developed and/or produced and that its effectiveness has been verified by using cell lines derived from aborted human fetuses. However, I assume that many, if not most people, vaccinated with Covid-19 vaccines, are not aware of this and are therefore subjectively not guilty.

As I observed above, one speaks of material cooperation when a person, by performing a morally good or indifferent act, cooperates in an evil act of somebody else without sharing his intention. Material cooperation is generally illicit, too, but can be justified in certain specific cases and is sometimes even unavoidable, as we saw above. When is material cooperation in evil justifiable? To answer this question we need to analyze the relationship between the object of the act of the principal-agent and that of the act of the cooperator. When both acts are together in one operational unity, cooperation is viewed as illicit. In this case one speaks of direct cooperation. This is the case when the designer, developer and/or the producer of the vaccines made arrangements with the person procuring the abortion about the way in which the abortion was performed. Direct cooperation in evil will practically always at the same time be formal. Because the designer, developer and the producer cannot but share the intention of the person who procures the abortion, their cooperation with this is formal. However, when the abortion was performed decades ago, the designer, developer and the producer of Covid-19 vaccines did not make such arrangements. Of course, the recipient of the vaccine is not at all involved in such arrangements.

Indirect material cooperation with illicit acts may sometimes be justifiable, but then on strict conditions. First, what the cooperator himself is doing, should not be an illicit act. Designing, developing and/or producing a vaccine and confirming its effectiveness are in themselves not evil acts. And secondly, the cooperator should have a proportionally grave reason for cooperating in somebody else’s illicit act. To evaluate the gravity of the reason one should take into account a series of criteria:

  1. The first is whether it concerns cooperation with a serious or less serious evil act. On the one hand, procured abortion is a serious evil, on the other hand the Covid-19 pandemic disrupts social life in the whole world. It is, of course, true that the disaster of the pandemic does not justify abortion in itself, but in some cases it may be possible in the case of indirect material cooperation in it.
  2. Another factor is whether the cooperation is proximate or remote: the cooperation of the designer, developer and producer with an abortion of a human fetus, which took place decades ago, is remote and in the case of the recipient of the vaccine very remote.
  3. A third criterion is whether one’s cooperation is necessary or not. When the evil act cannot be performed at all without the contribution of the cooperator, cooperation should generally be refused. However, this does not concern the production of the vaccine.
  4. One should also consider the question of whether the consequences of refusing cooperation are non-proportionatecompared to the gravity of the evil. In this respect, it is important to observe that without the vaccines the Covid-19 pandemic cannot be controlled.
  5. Another factor to be evaluated is the risk of causing scandal, which here means the risk that Christians by cooperating with an evil act, in this case procured abortion, creates the impression that the evil in which they cooperate, is not evil according to Christian teaching. By cooperating in an abortion, albeit in an indirect material way, a Catholic health worker could suggest to others that abortion could be licit under certain circumstances.

The cooperation of the designers, developers and/or producers of the vaccine, who do not accept procured abortion and are not involved in arrangements about the way in which the abortion was carried out, is material, indirect, remote and in the case of the recipient very remote. The coronavirus pandemic can cause very grave illness, has relatively high death rates and may totally disrupt social and economic life in the whole world and vaccines are the only means by which the pandemic can be stopped. Material, indirect and remote cooperation in abortion by developing and producing vaccines, by means of cell lines derived from aborted fetuses, and using these vaccines may, therefore, be justifiable. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith states:

“In this sense, when ethically irreproachable Covid-19 vaccines are not available (e.g. in countries where vaccines without ethical problems are not made available to physicians and patients, or where their distribution is more difficult due to special storage and transport conditions, or when various types of vaccines are distributed in the same country but health authorities do not allow citizens to choose the vaccine with which to be inoculated) it is morally acceptable to receive Covid-19 vaccines that have used cell lines from aborted fetuses in their research and production process.

“The fundamental reason for considering the use of these vaccines morally licit is that the kind of cooperation in evil (passive material cooperation) in the procured abortion from which these cell lines originate is, on the part of those making use of the resulting vaccines, remote. The moral duty to avoid such passive material cooperation is not obligatory if there is a grave danger, such as the otherwise uncontainable spread of a serious pathological agent – in this case, the pandemic spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes Covid-19. It must, therefore, be considered that, in such a case, all vaccinations recognized as clinically safe and effective can be used in good conscience with the certain knowledge that the use of such vaccines does not constitute formal cooperation with the abortion from which the cells used in the production of the vaccines derive.”

The chairmen of the commissions on doctrine and that on pro-life activities of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops make distinctions, which we should take to heart. These distinctions concern measures in which cell lines from aborted human fetuses have a role in the realization of the available vaccines. The chairmen of the commission mentioned observing that the in the case of the Pfizer and the Moderna vaccines have used human cell lines derived from an aborted fetus only to confirm the vaccine’s effectiveness. It concerns the HEK293 cell line, which was derived from a fetus aborted in Leiden in 1972. Moreover, they observe that the AstraZeneca vaccine has been designed, developed and produced and that its effectiveness is verified by using the HEK293 cell line. According to the presidents of both commissions, one should prefer a vaccine, in which cell lines derived from human fetuses, are used as little as possible. However, when the only vaccines available are designed, developed and produced and the effectiveness of which has been confirmed by means of human cell lines, they consider it justifiable to be vaccinated with these vaccines.

Can governments force people to get vaccinated?

Supposing that a moral obligation exists to get vaccinated, one must face the following question: may governments, referring to their responsibility for the common good, force people to get vaccinated when they are unwilling to do so? The answer is no for the following reasons:

  1. The first reason is that vaccination is an intervention in the integrity of the body of the human person. The person involved must consent to that on the basis of the principle of liberty and responsibility, one of the basic principles of medical ethics. Moreover, enforced vaccination would imply that in certain cases people must be arrested by the police in order to bring them to health care facilities where they are to be vaccinated. This is practically infeasible and could also imply a damage to the common good.

At most, a competent authority – like a judge – may order material to be taken, like a blood sample from somebody suspected of a crime, which is a severe infringement on the common good, in order to have evidence.

Governments should, instead, try to convince the members of society of the importance of getting vaccinated in their interest and that of their fellow human beings, on the effectiveness of the vaccine in order to slow down or stop the pandemics and the fact that the severe side effects of vaccines rarely or very rarely occur. People can also be stimulated to be vaccinated by offering vaccination free of charge.

  1. Secondly, one should respect the conscientious objections of people who refuse to be vaccinated, especially of those who have objections against the fact that the vaccine has been designed, developed and/or produced and its effectiveness has been confirmed by using cell lines derived from aborted human fetuses. A basic rule of ethics is that no one is allowed to do something that is evil according to his certain, though perhaps erroneous, conscience. No one may be forced to do something which he views in conscience as an evil act which he should not commit. The conscientious objections against the use of Covid-19 vaccine should be taken very seriously, above all because they concern the cooperation – though material, indirect and remote – in a grave evil, i.e. the fact that the vaccine in question had been designed, developed and/or produced and that its effectiveness has been confirmed by using cell lines derived from directly aborted human fetuses. For, although procured decades ago, the abortion remains a grave intrinsic evil. One should, therefore, respect their conscientious objections. People who refuse to be vaccinated should, however, try to maintain a certain distance from other people, sterilize their hands frequently and undergo Covid-19 tests frequently. A negative Covid-19 test, not older than 48 hours, should grant them access to restaurants, theatres and events.
  2. Thirdly, forced vaccination is not necessary when such a percentage of the population has been vaccinated that herd immunity has been reached. According to virologists 70% of the population needs to be vaccinated against covid-19 in order to achieve herd protection. Other incentives, which do not imply coercion, like not allowing unvaccinated children into crèches and financial measures against unvaccinated persons are then generally unnecessary and undesirable. The vaccinated people protect those who have not been vaccinated. When an unvaccinated person gets Covid-19, this will then not cause an epidemic.

An exception, though, concerns the personnel of health care facilities, who care for people vulnerable to Covid-19. From the ethical perspective, it is not unreasonable that the board of a health care facility asks workers who come into contact with vulnerable people to be vaccinated and if they refuse vaccination, to withhold permission from them to work there. Though this may feel like coercion for understandable reasons, this is not actually coercion. Their free choice to be vaccinated or not as such is respected. However, it actually involves a very strong incentive to be vaccinated because of the loss of their jobs and incomes.

Conclusion

The Covid pandemic has undermined social life across the whole world. In the West, the available vaccines are effective in controlling it and protecting one’s own life and that of others with only proportionate side effects (serious collateral effects, in any case, are rare to very rare). One can justify getting vaccinated against Covid-19 with vaccines that have been produced using cell lines derived from a human fetus aborted decades ago if no other vaccines are available. For this implies a material, indirect, remote, and above all for those receiving the vaccine a very remote, cooperation in abortion. Cooperation in evil is sometimes unavoidable or even obliged, however contradictory that may seem to be. This is the consequence of living in a world disfigured by original sin.

Pope Francis has described vaccination against Covid-19 as “an act of love”. He said, “Getting vaccinated is a simple yet profound way to care for one another, especially the most vulnerable.” Since people, by being vaccinated, also protect their fellow human beings they show respect for their right to life, one could perhaps also conclude that getting vaccinated is demanded by justice. Moreover, it is a proportionate and therefore obligatory means of protecting one’s personal life and health. From this perspective, one could also argue that being vaccinated against Covid-19 is a moral obligation. This does not, however, mean that it is also a juridical obligation. The compulsory administration of vaccines is not ethically justified. The decision to be vaccinated must be taken voluntarily by the person receiving the vaccine.


Wereldwijde gezondheidszorg: géén wegwerpcultuur

Address to the participants in the plenary assembly of the Pontifical Academy for Life.

Pope Francis
27 September 2021

Dear sisters and brothers,

I am happy to be able to meet you on the occasion of your General Assembly and I thank Msgr Paglia for his words. I extend a greeting also to the many Academics who are connected.

The theme you have chosen for these three days of workshops is particularly timely: that of public health in the horizon of globalization. Indeed, the crisis of the pandemic has made “both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor” reverberate even more strongly (Enc. Laudato Si’, 49). We cannot remain deaf before this dual cry. We have to listen to it well! And it is what you are setting out to do.

Examination of the numerous and grave issues that have emerged in the last two years is not an easy task. On the one hand we are worn out by the Covid-19 pandemic and by the inflation of issues that have been raised: we almost do not want to hear about it any more and we hurry on to other topics. However, on the other hand, it is essential to reflect calmly in order to examine in depth what has happened and to glimpse the path towards a better future for all. Truly, “even worse than this crisis is the tragedy of squandering it” (Pentecost homily, 31 May 2020). And we know that we do not emerge from a crisis the same: we will either emerge better or we will emerge worse. But not the same. The choice is in our hands. And I repeat, even worse than this crisis is the tragedy of squandering it. I encourage you in this effort. And I think the dynamic of discernment in which your meeting is taking place is wise and timely: first and foremost, listening attentively to the situation in order to foster a true and proper conversion and identify concrete decisions to emerge from the crisis, better.

The reflection that you have undertaken in recent years on global bioethics is revealing itself to be precious. I had encouraged you in this perspective with the letter Humana communitas on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of your Academy. The horizon of public health in fact offers the possibility to focus on important aspects for the coexistence of the human family and to strengthen the fabric of social friendship. These are central themes in the Encyclical Fratelli Tutti (cf. Chapter 6).

The crisis of the pandemic has highlighted the depth of the interdependence both among ourselves and between the human family and our common home (cf. Laudato Si’, 86; 164). Our societies, especially in the West, have had the tendency to forget this interconnection. And the bitter consequences are before our eyes. In this epochal change it is thus urgent to invert this noxious tendency and it is possible to do so through the synergy among different disciplines. Knowledge of biology and hygiene is needed, as well as of medicine and epidemiology, but also of economy and sociology, anthropology and ecology. In addition to understanding the phenomena, it is a matter of identifying technological, political and ethical criteria of action with regards to health systems, the family, employment and the environment.

This outlook is particularly important in the health field because health and sickness are determined not only by processes of nature but also by social life. Moreover, it is not enough for a problem to be serious for it to come to people’s attention and thus be addressed. Many very serious problems are ignored due to lack of an adequate commitment. Let us think of the devastating impact of certain diseases such as malaria and tuberculosis: the precariousness of health and hygiene conditions cause millions of avoidable deaths in the world every year. If we compare this reality with the concern caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, we can see how the perception of the seriousness of the problem and the corresponding mobilization of energies and resources are very different.

Of course, taking all measures to stem and defeat Covid-19 on a global level is the right thing to do, but this moment in history in which our health is being threatened directly should make us aware of what it means to be vulnerable and to live daily in insecurity. We could thus assume the responsibility also for the grave conditions in which others live and of which we have so far been little or not interested at all. We could thus learn not to project our priorities onto populations who live on other continents, where other needs are more urgent; where, for example, not only vaccines but also drinking water and daily bread are in short supply. I don’t know if one should laugh or cry, cry sometimes, when we hear government leaders or community leaders advise slum dwellers to sanitize themselves several times a day with soap and water. But, my dear, you have never been to a slum: there is no water there, they know nothing about soap. “No, do not leave your home!”: but there the whole neighbourhood is home, because they live… Please, let us take care of this reality, even when we reflect on health. Let us welcome then, any commitment to a fair and universal distribution of vaccines — this is important —, but taking into account the broader field which demands the same criteria of justice for health needs and for the promotion of life.

Looking at health in its multiple dimensions at a global level helps to understand and take on with responsibility the interconnection between the phenomena. In this way, we can better observe how even the conditions of life that are the result of political, social and environmental choices have an impact on the health of human beings. If we examine in different countries and in different social groups the hope of life — and of a healthy life — we discover great inequalities. They depend on variables such as the amount of wages, the educational level, the neighbourhood in which one resides even though it is in the same city. We state that life and health are values that are equally fundamental for all, based on the inalienable dignity of the human person. But, if this statement is not followed by an adequate commitment to overcome inequality, we are de facto accepting the painful reality that not all lives are equal and health is not protected for everyone in the same way. And here, I would like to repeat my concern: that there always be a free healthcare system. May the countries which have them, not lose them, for example Italy and others, which have a good free healthcare system: do not lose it because otherwise we would end up with only members of the population who can afford it, having the right to healthcare and the others not. And this is a very big challenge. This helps overcome inequality.

Therefore, international initiatives are to be supported — I am thinking for example of those recently promoted by the G20 aimed at creating a global governance for the health of all the inhabitants of the planet, that is, a set of clear rules agreed at the international level that respect human dignity. In fact, the risk of new pandemics will continue to be a threat also for the future.

The Pontifical Academy for Life can also offer a precious contribution in this sense, seeing itself as a travelling companion of other international organizations committed to this same aim. With regards to this, it is important to participate in shared initiatives and in the appropriate manner, to the public debate. Naturally, this requires that, without “watering down” contents, attempts be made to communicate them in a language that is suitable and topics that can be understood in the current social context, so that the Christian anthropological proposition, inspired by Revelation, can also help today’s men and women to rediscover “the primacy of the right to life from conception to its natural end” (Discourse to participants in the Meeting sponsored by the Science and Life Association, 30 May 2015).

Here too, I would like to mention that we are victims of the throwaway culture. In his presentation, Msgr Paglia referred to something: but there is the throwing away of children that we do not want to welcome, with that abortion law that sends them back to their sender and kills them. Today this has become a “normal” thing, a habit that is very bad; it is truly murder. In order to truly grasp this, perhaps asking ourselves two questions may help: is it right to eliminate, to end a human life to solve a problem? Is it right to hire a hitman to solve a problem? Abortion is this. And then on the other side, are the elderly: the elderly who are also a bit of “throwaway material” because they are not needed…. But they are the wisdom, they are the roots of the wisdom of our civilization, and this civilization discards them! Yes, in many places there is a “hidden” law on euthanasia, as I call it. It is the one that makes us say: “medicines are expensive, only half should be given”. This means shortening the lives of the elderly. In so doing, we deny hope, the hope of the children who bring us the life that makes us go forward, and the hope that is in the roots that the elderly give us. Instead, we discard both. And then the everyday throwing away, that life is thrown away. Let us be careful about this throwaway culture. It is not a problem of one law or another. It is a problem of throwing away. And on this point, you academics, the Catholic universities and also Catholic hospitals cannot allow themselves to go this way. This is a path which we cannot take: the throw away path.

Therefore, the work that your Academy has undertaken in recent years on the impact of new technologies on human life and more specifically on “algorethics” should be looked upon favourably in such a way “that science may truly be at the service of mankind, and not mankind at the service of science” (ibid ). I encourage in this regard, the work of the fledgling foundation, renAIssance, for the spreading and deepening of the Rome Call for AI Ethics which I strongly hope many will join.

Lastly, I wish to thank you for the commitment and contribution that the Academy has provided by actively participating in the Vatican Covid Commission. Thank you for this. It is beautiful to see cooperation within the Roman Curia in the fulfilment of a shared project. We have to increasingly develop these processes brought forth together, in which I know many of you have participated, urging greater attention to vulnerable people such as the elderly, the disabled and the younger ones.

With these feelings of gratitude, I entrust the work of this Assembly and also your activity as an Academy on the whole in favour of the defence and promotion of life, to the Virgin Mary. I offer my heartfelt blessing to each of you and your loved ones. And I ask you please to pray for me because I need it. Thank you.


Paus: je laten vaccineren is een ‘daad van liefde’

Katholiek Nieuwsblad, 18 augustus 2021
door Anton de Wit

Paus Franciscus en verschillende aartsbisschoppen uit Noord- en Zuid-Amerika roepen mensen in een videoboodschap op zich te laten vaccineren tegen corona.

“Dankzij Gods genade en het werk van velen, hebben we nu vaccins die ons beschermen tegen Covid 19”, zei de paus in de vandaag verschenen video. De vaccins brengen volgens Franciscus “hoop op het einde van de pandemie, maar alleen als ze voor iedereen beschikbaar zijn en als we samenwerken”.

Je laten vaccineren is “een daad van liefde”, vervolgt de paus. “Liefde voor jezelf, liefde voor onze families en vrienden, en liefde voor alle volken. Liefde is ook sociaal en politiek.”

‘Kleine gebaren’

Die sociale en politieke liefde wordt volgens paus Franciscus opgebouwd door “kleine, individuele gebaren, die in staat zijn om samenlevingen te veranderen en verbeteren.”

“Je laten vaccineren is een eenvoudige maar diepgaande manier om voor anderen te zorgen, met name de meest kwetsbaren.”

Ideële campagne

De paus en aartsbisschoppen brachten hun videoboodschap uit in samenwerking met The Ad Council, een ideële reclamestichting uit de VS die momenteel een campagne voert om de vaccinatiegraad te verhogen.

Eerder was al een vergelijkbare video uitgebracht met oud-presidenten Carter, Clinton, Bush en Obama. Door nu religieuze leiders te strikken hoopt The Ad Council ook de vaccinatiebereidheid in geloofsgemeenschappen te vergroten.

Vaccinatie bij Hispanics blijft achter

Van de totale Amerikaanse volwassen bevolking is volgens recente data momenteel 72 % gevaccineerd, onder Hispanics is dat 67 %.

Sociaal-economische omstandigheden en opleidingsniveau lijken daarbij een belangrijkere rol te spelen dan religieuze motieven. Maar recent Amerikaans onderzoek heeft laten zien dat geloofsgemeenschappen en kerkleiders wel een belangrijke rol kunnen spelen bij het over de streep trekken van twijfelaars.


Duitse theologen zien grote obstakels voor vaccinatieplicht

Katholiek Nieuwsblad, 27 juli 2021

Er zijn “goede redenen om grote obstakels op te werpen” voor een algemene vaccinatieplicht, zegt de Duitse ethicus Franz-Josef Bormann. Volgens de katholieke moraaltheoloog en lid van de Duitse Ethiekraad heeft de Duitse overheid meermaals verklaard dat vaccinatie vrijwillig is.

Vanuit moralistisch oogpunt zou iedereen wel moeten nadenken over vaccinatie “omdat er weinig tegen in te brengen is”, aldus Bormann. Hij denkt dat verplicht inenten de allerlaatste optie zou kunnen zijn voor beroepsgroepen als ouderenverplegers en ziekenhuismedewerkers; iedereen is verantwoordelijk om de kans op schade aan zichzelf en anderen te beperken, zeker mensen die met kwetsbare groepen als ouderen en zieken werken. “Daarom mag verwacht worden dat mensen die met kwetsbaren werken zich daar in het bijzonder verantwoordelijk voor voelen.” Wel is belangrijk dat mensen goed geïnformeerd worden.

Internationaal perspectief

Het debat omtrent het inenten van jongeren heeft volgens Bormann een internationaal perspectief nodig. Een stijgende besmettingsgraad onder jongeren is weliswaar een probleem en het open houden van scholen heeft een hoge prioriteit, maar omdat jonge mensen weinig risico lopen om ernstig ziek te worden door corona, moet men nadenken of het niet beter zou zijn om kwetsbaren in arme delen van de wereld te vaccineren. “De ontwikkeling van de pandemie in de derde wereld kan ook effect hebben op rijkere landen door het ontstaan van nieuwe coronavarianten”, zegt Bormann.

Hij wil termen als ‘speciale rechten’ en ‘privileges’ voor wie volledig gevaccineerd is vermijden. De coronamaatregelen van de afgelopen tijd hebben grondrechten beïnvloed; het is niet het geven van vrijheden dat gerechtvaardigd moet worden, maar het afnemen ervan.

Bormann vindt wel dat mensen die geen vaccin willen in de toekomst zelf voor hun coronatests moeten gaan betalen; het is niet nodig om de belastingbetaler op te zadelen met kosten die in principe niet gemaakt hoeven te worden.

Groepsimmuniteit

Een ander lid van de Duitse Ethiekraad, Andreas Lob-Hüdepohl, noemt verplichte vaccinatie ook een brug te ver. Omdat er nu nog genoeg mensen zijn die zich vrijwillig laten prikken, is verplichten nog niet nodig om groepsimmuniteit te bereiken, aldus de katholieke moraaltheoloog.

Lob-Hüdepohl vindt beperkingen voor mensen die niet gevaccineerd zijn ook geen goed idee. “Om zulke sancties op te leggen, moet er een wettelijk vastgestelde vaccinatieplicht zijn”, zegt hij. “Anders zijn zulke maatregelen enkel bespreekbaar bij nieuwe wetenschappelijke ontdekkingen rondom het virus.”


Covidvaccinatieplicht in zorg: morele noodzaak of grens voorbij?

Medisch Contact, 28 juli 2021

Internationaal is de discussie over verplichte Covidvaccinatie op gang gekomen. In meerdere landen worden groepen mensen, bijvoorbeeld zorgmedewerkers of ambtenaren, verplicht zich te laten vaccineren; in andere landen hikt men nog aan tegen een vaccinatieplicht. Medisch Contact publiceert de resultaten van een enquête onder Nederlandse artsen en geneeskundestudenten: 57% is voor een vaccinatieplicht voor zorgmedewerkers.

De volledige tekst van het artikel is alleen beschikbaar voor abonnees van Medisch Contact.