Catholics and the MMR Vaccine

The measles outbreak in the Southwest and on the West Coast has been getting a lot of attention from bloggers and others lately. I had not planned on writing about it until this weekend. I’m pro-vaccines generally and pro-science. A National Catholic Register piece from early this past week confirmed my thinking about the MMR vaccine, even in light of an issue some pro-lifers have with it.

Jill Stanek wrote about what Judie Brown and American Life League said about it:

Forget illegals, anti-vaxxers or Jenny McCarthy: A Washington, D.C.-based right-to-life group is blaming abortion for the spread of measles across the country by people who were at the Disney Resort in Anaheim in mid-December.

Specifically, it’s the decision by pharmaceutical company Merck to make available an “ethical” vaccine for the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) virus. Since 2008, Merck’s MMR II live virus vaccine has been in use–and since that time families opposed to abortion have declined MMR II vaccinations because it was “created from aborted fetal cell lines,” explains the American Life League.

The American Life League, which bills itself as the “oldest national Catholic pro-life education and advocacy organization in the United States,” has been calling on Merck to bring back the “ethical single-dose vaccine” for families who eschew MMR II on moral grounds.

“Merck is denying parents the choice of obtaining an ethical measles vaccine,” stated Judie Brown, the president and co-founder of American Life League. “According to Children of God for Life, outbreaks of measles, such as at the California Disney parks, have been on the increase ever since Merck discontinued the ethical single-dose vaccine in 2008.”

Brown’s comments caused Stanek to say this:

I confess I’m kind of glad I vaccinated my kids when I was naive. I now have two problems with vaccines, the aborted fetal cell component, and the chance that fetal cells in vaccines may cause autism. I’m relieved I don’t have to make the decision about this.

Stanek asked her readers what they thought. My response would be to discuss what other Catholic groups had to say about it.

A member of the Catholic Medical Association weighed in with the Register:

Dr. Paul Cieslak is a Catholic parent of six who has overseen the Acute and Communicable Disease Prevention section in the Public Health Division of the Oregon Department of Human Services (DHS) since 1995. He is also a member of the Catholic Medical Association, an organization committed to upholding the teachings of the Catholic Church while advancing the profession of medicine.

According to Cieslak, opposition to vaccines largely comes from misinformation regarding side effects.

“It is true that, occasionally, you can get a nasty side effect from a vaccine, as from any medicine,” he told CNA. “That said, the vaccines are very safe: Tens or hundreds of millions of doses of this thing have been given with very little problem.”

More information from the Pontifical Academy for Life and the National Catholic Bioethics Center (emphasis added):

The NCBC, along with the Pontifical Academy for Life, have studied the moral issues surrounding vaccines and have determined that it is morally licit, and even morally responsible, for Catholics to use even those vaccines developed from aborted fetus cells.

“There’s a whole formula for examining these dilemmas in terms of what we call cooperation in evil, and there are certain things that are always wrong, and there are certain things that are tolerable,” Hilliard told CNA.

The Pontifical Academy for Life determined that the good of public health outweighs the distanced cooperation in the evil of the abortions performed in the 1960s from which the cell lines were developed. No new abortions have been performed to maintain these vaccines, and no cells from the victims of the abortions are contained in the vaccines.

Currently, the vaccine lines for rubella, chicken pox and hepatitis A are the remaining vaccines that have been developed from aborted fetal cells and for which there is no alternative available.

“One is morally free to use the vaccine regardless of its historical association with abortion,” reads a document from the NCBC based on the findings from the Pontifical Academy for Life. “The reason is that the risk to public health, if one chooses not to vaccinate, outweighs the legitimate concern about the origins of the vaccine. This is especially important for parents, who have a moral obligation to protect the life and health of their children and those around them.

Also from the article:

The document goes on to say that Catholics should express their opposition to vaccines developed from aborted cells and that there is an obligation to use alternative vaccines, should they exist.

There is no alternative vaccine now. Our daughter received all of the appropriate MMR vaccines so far and every other one as well. Parents have the choice on vaccinating their children, but the rest of us have the right to disagree and criticize those who do not.

Jeff Quinton

Jeff Quinton

Jeff Quinton is an award-winning blogger who has been aggregating and blogging since 1998. He has worked as a reporter, in government, and as a communications professional in Columbia, SC and Washington, DC.

Quinton is a native South Carolinian who has lived in Baltimore since 2006. He is a recent convert to the Catholic Church and is active in the Knights of Columbus. He has been involved in the pro-life movement nationally and locally since 2010.

Quinton is a veteran who served as an intelligence analyst in the Army National Guard. He is also an Eagle Scout.
Jeff Quinton


  1. Vaccines is a broad term and you seem to be following the media frenzy all vaccines or no vaccines. How about flu vaccines, did you get flu vaccines. Interesting to note that the only other country in the World that supports flu vaccines is Canada. The entire of Europe,Asia and South America have judged flu vaccines to be ineffective and a huge waste of money, yet we in America – land of the free – can be fired or denied access and termed ” unpatriotic” for not a getting a flu vaccine. Oh, people say when they quickly rush to find out the facts on Germany’s or Switzerland’s or Japan’s flu vaccine program so they can prove me wrong.

    • The subject line clearly notes the vaccine being discussed is the MMR vaccine. It’s the only one I was discussing specifically due to criticism of it by some because of how it was developed. All of the quotes from other sources deal with that vaccine specifically as well. Not sure how it could be made any clearer.