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The National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly

Volume 21, Issue 2, Summer 2021

Paul Scherz
Pages 219-230

Are Immortalized Cell Lines Artifacts?
Commodification of Human Tissue and the COVID-19 Vaccine Debate

Recent magisterial teaching suggests that Catholics should prefer COVID-19 vaccines in which immortalized cells derived from the remains of aborted fetuses did not play a role in production, even though all of them can be licitly used. Many scholars contest any distinction between the different vaccines, in part by arguing that these cell lines have become artifacts. This argument is inadequate on a number of levels. First, these scholars have not sufficiently proven the point that the cell lines become artifacts through biotechnological manipulation. Second, considering cell lines as mere artifacts commodifies them in a way that is rejected even by secular authors. Third, this mode of commodification reinforces the technocratic paradigm. Finally, embracing this commodification of cell lines will prevent moral theology from properly judging other aspects of the growing bioeconomy. These arguments suggest that distinguishing between different vaccines remains the most appropriate course.

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