Bioethics News

Is it true that there are vaccines produced using aborted fetuses?

pdfSome of the vaccines currently used to prevent diseases such as rubella, measles, rabies, poliomyelitis, hepatitis A, chickenpox or smallpox are produced using tissues from human abortions.

The vaccines consist of dead or attenuated live viruses that are introduced into the patient’s body to activate the body’s defences against that virus without becoming ill. Thus, if the patient subsequently enters into contact with the live virus, it will be unable infect him, since he has the necessary defences to cope with it, i.e. he is immunised.

To prepare the vaccines, the viruses must be cultured in cells in the laboratory. The ethical difficulty appears when these cells come from surgically-aborted human foetuse. Similarly, the viruses themselves can be obtained from aborted foetuses that have been infected with a particular virus. An article published in 2008 in Cuadernos de Bioetica includes detailed information on the different cells and viral strains originating from these sources.

Cells used and vaccines produced using aborted fetuses

The most widely used foetal cells are WI-38 and MRC-5. The WI-38 cells were derived by Leonard Hayflick in 1962 from the lung of a 3-month female foetus [2].The initials WI refer to the Wistar Institute, a body of the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, and number 38 to the foetus from which the cells were obtained. The MRC-5 cells were obtained in 1966 from the lungs of a 14-week male foetus [3].The initials MRC indicate Medical Research Council, a body from London. Other cells derived from surgically-aborted foetuses are: WI-1, WI-3, WI-11, WI-16, WI-18, WI-19, WI-23, WI-24, WI-25, WI-26, WI-27, WI-44, MRC-9, IMR-90, and R-17 (obtained from lung); WI-2, WI-12 and WI-20, (skin and muscle); WI-5 (muscle); WI-8 and WI-14, and WS1 (skin); WI-4, WI-9, WI-10, WI-13 and WI-15 (kidney); WI-6, WI-21 and WI-22 (heart); WI-7 (thymus and thyroids), WI-17 (liver); FHs74Int (small intestine); and PER.C6 (retina)1.

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