by Ben Mullen
A good friend insisted I read an article by Dr. Francis Collins in the Washington Post. “He’s a strong Christian”, my friend enthused, “and he says pastors and Christians need to ignore the conspiracy theories and take the coronavirus vaccine!”
I eventually read several articles by Dr. Collins and watched a twenty-seven minute Youtube video of his profession of faith. What I found was disturbing.
Who is Francis Collins? Dr. Francis Collins was appointed by President Barack Obama to head the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, and has continued in that role through the Trump and Biden administrations.
He serves as “boss” to Dr. Anthony Fauci and has become a significant public voice in COVID-19 responses and vaccine information. He professes to be a Christian, and in a December 12th, 2020 article in the Washington Post, he seeks to persuade pastors and churches that although the Moderna mRNA-1273 and Pfizer BNT162b2 COVID vaccines have associations with HEK 293 fetal cells obtained from an abortion, Christians should dismiss this as a moral concern and take one of the vaccines.
It should be noted at the outset that Dr. Collins is not agnostic on the issue of abortion. Although he publicly professes to be pro-life, for years he has zealously advocated for the use of fetal tissue from abortions in medical research, and usually justifies this stance by citing the legality of abortion in the country from which the fetal tissue came (as he does with the HEK 293 cell line), and the utilitarian usefulness of fetal tissue in the possibility of saving life or ending disease.
In a December 18th, 2018 interview of Collins in Science Magazine concerning his defense of fetal tissue research before Congress, he stated, “Even for somebody who is very supportive of the pro-life position, you can make a strong case for this being an ethical stance,” he claimed in comments to reporters, “that if something can be done with these tissues that might save somebody’s life downstream, perhaps that’s a better choice than discarding them.”
In other words, although Collins opposes abortion in principle, the health benefits are so promising (except for the aborted child, of course) we shouldn’t just throw the baby out with the bathwater until it’s floated downstream far enough to see if we can do something with it. He gives four reasons why Pfizer and Moderna’s relationship to the HEK 293 cell line should be of no moral concern to Christians.
- The abortion to which this particular fetal tissue is tied happened forty-seven years ago, and thus, no longer morally significant.
- Abortions in the Netherlands – where the abortion propagating the HEK 293 cell line occurred – were then and now legal, and thus this particular abortion is of no moral consequence.
- No new fetal tissues have been used in association with these vaccines, which absolves those seeking to benefit from the prior abortion from any moral liability.
- The health benefits that would accrue from these vaccines are so urgent in light of the current pandemic that all moral reservations about abortion must be suspended.
I intend to demonstrate in this paper that not only are Collins’ positions regarding the vaccines morally bankrupt, but also devoid of any biblical support or recognizable Christian thought. Although Collins presents himself as a would-be “Christian ethicist” in regard to COVID-19 vaccines, he demonstrates hardly any familiarity with Scripture and uses no Scripture to support his positions, save for the most maudlin distortions of sacred text that would seem to lend credence to his arguments.
His first three arguments can be easily identified in the following paragraphs that form the heart of his defense of COVID-19 vaccines in the Washington Post; he writes:
“There are fetal cell lines derived in Scandinavia (he’s confusing the Netherlands with Scandinavia; the Netherlands have never been a part of Scandinavia) in 1970 or 1980 that have been used as part of the vaccine manufacturing process for two of the vaccines (AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson). I understand it is a concern to people of faith who are troubled that those cell lines were derived admittedly, 40 or 50 years ago, from an elective pregnancy termination (dude knows how to put the lipstick on the pig, don’t he?)
A lot of people seem to think these vaccines require fresh fetal tissue from abortions. That is absolutely not the case. And four of the six therapeutics that are currently under development, including the two that are furthest along (he is clearly referring to Pfizer and Moderna without naming them), do not use any fetal cell lines in the manufacturing process (so he is resolutely denying Pfizer and Moderna have any involvement with the HEK293 cell line – but watch, in the very next sentence he admits they do);
They (Pfizer and Moderna) do have a step along the way where they validate whether the vaccine is likely to work. In a lab-based experiment, they have used the same fetal cell lines from decades ago, just to check and see if the vaccine looks promising. If the cell line was used in actual production, that’s a bit more of an ethical concern for some (but apparently not for him)”.
And there you have the first three of Collins’ four arguments in three tidy paragraphs; the use of fetal materials in these vaccines is of no moral concern because the abortion in question; 1) happened a long time ago 2) was legal in the Netherlands 3) there are no new abortions of concern.
After reading more technical journals than I care to – from the New England Journal of Medicine to Science Magazine – I can confirm that not only what Collins concedes is true, but widely and broadly admitted by both Pfizer and Moderna and throughout the pharmaceutical industry.
Here is a representative pull quote from Nature Magazine concerning Moderna’s use of HEK293 cells, “HEK293T cells were transiently transfected with mRNA encoding SARS-CoV-2 WT S or S-2P protein using a TranIT mRNA transfection kit (Mirus). After 24 hr, the cells were harvested and resuspended in FACS buffer (1X PBS, 3% FBS, 0.05% sodium azide).
Here is a representative pull quote from the British government’s website regarding Pfizer’s use of HEK293 cells, www.gov.uk/government/publications/regulatory-approval-of-pfizer-biontech-vaccine-for-covid-19 –
Note the title of the article; “Summary of the Public Assessment Report for Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine”. Here’s the pull quote taken directly from the article;
“Study 20-0211 analysed SARS-CoV-2 P2 S expression in HEK293T cells. The initial demonstration of in vitro expression in HEK293 cells confirmed that transfection and subsequent protein expression could take place, including in cells incubated with the nanoparticle presentation of the vaccine”.
It is beyond dispute, as attested by widespread reporting in multiple medical, technical, and professional journals, that both Moderna mRNA-1273 and Pfizer BNT162b2 vaccines made use of the HEK 293 cell line. Again, Collins confirms as much, though he obfuscates the fact as much as possible.
Let’s look at the language one more time and observe the rhetorical sleight-of-hand and the money quote in bold in the second paragraph; “And four of the six therapeutics that are currently under development, including the two that are furthest along, do not use any fetal cell lines in the manufacturing process.
They do have a step along the way where they validate whether the vaccine is likely to work. In a lab-based experiment, they have used the same fetal cell lines from decades ago, just to check and see if the vaccine looks promising”.
Again, observe. In the first paragraph he issues a flat denial that fetal cell lines are involved in Pfizer and Moderna vaccines by tip-toeing a tightrope between production and testing. And then he turns right around in the very next sentence with a breezy, sing-song rush past the graveyard, “Oh, but of course, there is this step along the way where they validate whether the vaccine is likely to work …” (but let’s not get hung up on details!).
He reminds me of the teenager who really wants to go to the party, knows his parents won’t let him go if drugs and alcohol will be there, so has to find a clever way to defuse the sticky-wicket.
TEEN: “I’m really excited about the party, all my friends will be there”.
MOM & DAD: “There won’t be any drugs and alcohol, will there?”
TEEN: “Absolutely not, no drugs and alcohol!”
PARENTS: “Good, because if there are drugs and alcohol, you’re not going”.
TEEN: “Absolutely, no drugs and alcohol … of course, there are always those troublemakers who show up with their beer and dope, but nobody pays attention to them, so there will be no drugs and alcohol”.
Huh?! How can there be no drugs and alcohol at the party and beer and dope at the party at the same time? There can’t be. It’s absurd.
How can there be no aborted fetal tissue involved in Pfizer and Moderna vacccines, and HEK293 cell lines involved at the same time? There can’t be. His argument is as juvenile as it is absurd.
But that’s not even the most interesting question. The most interesting question is, “why does Collins even subject us to this embarrassing dog and pony show in the first place?”
The answer; he HAS to. Because he knows – and everyone knows – the issue of fetal tissue and Covid vaccines can’t be avoided, and the moral issues can’t just be brushed aside.
Before going further, it is necessary to clarify the nature of HEK293 cells. The cells were generated in 1973 by processing human embryonic kidney cells (thus, the acronym, “HEK”) obtained from a female fetus legally aborted in the Netherlands under Dutch law. Because of the dynamic and vital nature of fetal stem cells, HEK cells have continued to be propagated for medical use.
Collins is correct. The Pfizer BNT162b2 vaccine did not utilize HEK 293 cells in its development, production, or manufacture. HEK 293 cells were used to test the final BNT162b2 product.
However, Collins is not so accurate in his assessment of the Moderna mRNA-1273 vaccine. There is reporting that indicates a much more intimate relationship between mRNA-1273 and HEK293 in the development, production, and testing of the vaccine, and even in the building of the spike protein that provokes the immune response.
But for the sake of argument, I’m going to focus on the “least objectionable” position being used to justify the involvement of HEK293; that this fetal cell line was “only” used to test the final Covid vaccine products of Pfizer and Moderna.
This is the argument Collins and every ethicist is using to persuade Christians there is no moral dilemma in taking the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines; “fetal cell lines were not used to produce the vaccines, they are not in the final product, but only used to test the vaccines; therefore Christians and people with sincerely held convictions about abortion can take either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine in good conscience”.
But even if its true that fetal cells from an abortion were “only” used at the testing level, Collins and others are ignoring two stark realities: 1) they are still deriving a health benefit from an abortion, and 2) even at the testing level, they are normalizing the use of cell lines from aborted fetuses as standard practice in medical research, treatment, and therapeutics.
The significance of this second point cannot be overstated, as once the door is opened for exploiting aborted tissue in medical research and practice, where does it end?
Will there eventually be contract “sows”, whose sole purpose is the generation of fetal material that can be surgically excised, harvested, and then converted into medical use? Will there one day be corporate breeder farms generating vast quantities of fetal cells, all given the respectable veneer of boards of directors, stock options, and 401k plans?
The callousness and viciousness of such a brave new world is horrifying and sickening to comprehend, but we are rushing rapidly down that road.
“But”, you protest, “that could never happen here!” It already is happening, my friend.
Intrepid journalist David Daleiden uncovered a highly developed black market for fetal body parts and organs operated by Planned Parenthood, complete with catalogued inventories of available body parts and price lists for interested parties. It only awaits a visionary entrepreneur to gather the necessary capital, bring it to Wall Street, and market it to a receptive medical community.
Everyone who takes either the Moderna or Pfizer COVID vaccines needs to know this; they are whispering a silent “yes” to the medical use of aborted fetuses as standard practice in research, therapeutics, and treatment. That whispered “yes” seems hardly significant itself, it seems to make no difference; what harm could it be?
And yet that solitary “yes” with no more strength than a morning mist, trickles together with a stream of other whispered “yesses”, rushing together into a roaring river of “yesses”, pouring into an ocean crescendo of “yesses” that crash together in a resounding “YES!!!!”, heard in the highest heavens.
Yes, it is right to take the life of another if it will give me life!
YES!, it is good to hunt down the weak and helpless to feed the belly of the living!
YESSS!!!, we will sacrifice the powerless for the sake of the powerful to give ourselves a risk-free world . And “YES”, everyone who takes the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine IS normalizing the medical use of aborted fetuses, and thus normalizing abortion itself.
What kind of horrifying world are we creating, where the life of one is sacrificed for the life of another? What kind of apocalyptic nightmare have we conjured in our mad rush to eliminate every speck of disease at the expense of all moral decency and respect for life?
I will leave the reader to contemplate such a cold and heartless winter. Now, on to Collins’ four defenses of the use of HEK 293 cells to test the Pfizer and Moderna COVID vaccines; is it true that the passage of time, legal imprimatur, singularity, and promising benefits make an otherwise immoral act, moral?
Let’s find out.
1) The abortion employed to propagate the HEK 293 cells happened a long time ago, and therefore is of no moral consequence – Collins seems at pains to stress this, in what seems a tacit admission of the weakness of his position.
He weaves this theme of “a long time ago” throughout his argument; “There are fetal cell lines derived in Scandinavia in 1970 or 1980” … “I understand it is a concern to people of faith who are troubled that those cell lines were derived admittedly, 40 or 50 years ago, from an elective pregnancy termination” … “they have used the same fetal cell lines from decades ago”.
Collins and many others really want us to know this abortion happened a long time ago, as if the passage of time somehow redeems an evil act. By his logic, Stalin should be sainted by the church since he committed his atrocities ninety years ago.
Collins can stack up all the decades he wants and build a firewall of time stretching to heaven, but he cannot change the fact that an innocent life was taken forty-seven years ago; an innocent still pillaged and plundered for health benefits now, like looters rifling through the pockets of a dead man for a diamond pin or a gold watch.
Here is my response to Collins on this point;
- Evil acts are not redeemed or rectified by the passage of time, but only by the blood of Christ, as Hebrews 9:22 says. If Collins is the Christian he says he is, he should know this.
- People who seek to benefit from an evil act in the past are giving tacit approval to that evil act.
- To passively agree to abortion in one instance is to passively agree to it in all instances.
- People who seek to exploit the body of a murder victim for personal benefit dehumanize the deceased (and therefore the living), stripping them of all honor and dignity.
I have some questions for Collins:
Why do all fifty states have laws against the desecration of a corpse? Here’s a helpful definition of desecration from the State of Oklahoma Criminal Statutes, circa 2014, “For purposes of this section, “desecration of a human corpse” means any act committed after the death of a human being including, but not limited to, dismemberment, disfigurement, mutilation, burning, or any act committed to cause the dead body to be devoured, scattered or dissipated;
The Texas Penal Code, Section 42.08, says this about the desecration of a corpse, (a) A person commits an offense if the person, without legal authority, knowingly:
(1) disinters, disturbs, damages, dissects, in whole or in part, carries away, or treats in an offensive manner a human corpse;
Has not the tender flesh and bone of HEK 293 been dismembered, dissected, and mutilated by ghastly vultures in white jackets, who tear at the vapors of her frail carcass with cruel blades, vile chemicals, and blinding lights? Has not the pale phantom of her life been reduced to a lab rat to be poked and plotted in crisp charts with steely pens?
Does her life have no meaning? Do we even know her name?
No, we don’t. She was never given the dignity of a name. The poison needle pierced her heart before anyone could call out her name.
And now, she does not even have the dignity of rest, because the circling vultures mean to tear every morsel of life from the mists of her helpless soul. Why can’t she lie down in green pastures, and rest by still waters?
Why must her restless spirit moan forever in foul mists of beaker and glass? How can we expect civility in life when we act with such inhumanity in death?
The reason all fifty states have laws against the desecration of a corpse is there was once a time – long, long ago, to use the vernacular of Collins – when human life had meaning and dignity, and the dead were honored with a ceremony, the laying of the body to rest, and peace.
Perhaps the first step back to regaining our humanity and rebuilding an age of dignity is to give HEK293 a name, instead of a number. She’s Dutch, having been born in the Netherlands.
So, I propose we call her Hektorina Van Gogh, the artist who never painted, the poet who never sang. And yet perhaps a teacher who still has something to say to a dark and defiled generation.
If we don’t even have the decency to do that, I suggest we lie down in the dust with Job, cover ourselves in ashes, and cry out to God for mercy.
Perhaps Dr. Collins would care to join us.