Volume 21, Issue 1, Spring 2021
Dignitas personae, HEK 293, and the COVID Vaccines
Using cell lines like HEK 293 or their products—like many of the COVID-19 vaccines—involves no cooperation with evil strictly speaking, but it does involve appropriation of the benefits of past evil. Applying M. Cathleen Kaveny’s framework for assessing the permissibility of appropriating the benefits of evil, the duty to avoid using cell lines like HEK 293 or their products is weak and defeasible. Proper interpretation of Dignitas personae requires recognizing the crucial moral differences between the use of these cell lines—which does not perpetuate the injustice of abortion, imply approval of abortion, or involve significant risks of corrupting moral character or provoking scandal—and the direct use of fetal tissue or human embryos in research.