Does the greater good justify using aborted fetal cells to develop vaccines?

Andrea Gambotto, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh, said about the controversy over the use of aborted fetal cells in the development of the coronavirus vaccines, “It’d be a crime to ban the use of these cells.” He added. “It never harmed anybody — it was a dead embryo so the cells back then, instead of being discarded, they were used for research.” Is this argument valid? Can the use of aborted fetal cells in medical development be justified by the good it accomplishes?

Before answering this question, a few disclaimers need to be given. This article is not about the morality of the use of aborted fetal cells in the use of vaccines or any other medication. This article is not about if people should get vaccinated or about the various vaccine mandates in America. The question at hand is narrow and regards the perception that the greater good justifies wrong behavior.

Another repsonse, similar to Mr. Gambotto’s, protests that if it is immoral to use products developed wth aborted fetal cells, then say good bye to modern medicine. Is this a valid argument? Does the great good accomplished by vaccines or other modern pharmacology outweigh any harm that may have been caused in the origin of the fetals cells?

A simple illustration may make the question more clear. Doctor’s discover that a young man has a an enzyme in his blood which immediately stops the spread of any cancerous cells in his body. Even more amazing, this enzyme is reproducible and can quickly be made available at low cost to cancer patients around the world. This one man’s blood could end cancer for everyone. This hypothetical scenario has two difficulties. First, to get enough of the enzyme to assure success doctor’s will have to drain his body of blood, killing him. Second, he does not want to die and will not consent to the procedure. Is it ethical or moral to take that man’s life so cancer can be completely cured?

Of greater importance than our feelings about the justification of certain ethical and moral decisions is the Bible’s evaluation. What does the Bible say about judging immoral actions by the good they produce. Two examples from the Old Testament should be sufficient to show God’s perspective. The first example involved King Saul. In 1 Samuel 13 King Saul was preparing to lead the army of Israel against the Philistines. Before the battle they waited for the prophet and priest Samuel to offer a sacrifice to God. But Samuel did not show up at the appointed time, and the army of Israel began to drift away. The Philistine army approached and it seemed the army of Israel would be routed. So King Saul called for sacrificial animals to be brought to him and he offered sacrifices to God. The problem is, Saul had no right to offer sacrifices. Only the priests could do that. Saul did wrong in order to maintain the army of Israel and gain the victory in battle against the Philistines. Considering that God had commanded the Israelites to defeat the Philistines, this is a good result. However, God was not pleased. Through Samuel God told Saul, “Thou hast done foolishly: thou hast not kept the commandment of the LORD thy God, which he commanded thee: Now thy kingdom shall not continue.” (1 Samuel 13:13-14)

On a later occasion, during the reign of King David, God shows again His view about doing wrong to accomplish a greater good. The Ark of the Covenant had been stolen by the Philistines, but was returned to Israel. Because the Ark of the Covenant was the center of Jewish worship and the place where God’s glory rested in the Tabernacle, King David went out to bring the ark to the capital city of Jerusalem. However, David made a serious error. He had the ark hauled on an ox cart instead of carried by priests as God had commanded. At one point in the journey the cart shook and the ark began to fall off. Uzzah reached up and held the ark on the cart. God had specifically commanded no one was to touch the Ark of the Covenant and warned that whoever touched it would die. (Numbers 4:15) God struck Uzzah dead. Uzzah’s action accomplished great good, keeping the ark from falling to harm. But God requires obedience, not pragmatism. He punished Uzzah for disobedience.

God is not impressed with human justificaitons and rationalizations. He requires obedience to Him above all else. Any good that may come from doing wrong never justifies the wrong done.