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The Morality of Vaccine Refusal

Posted Nov 24, 2021 by Ray Patrick
If thou forbear to deliver them that are drawn unto death, and those that are ready to be slain; If thou sayest, Behold, we knew it not; doth not he that pondereth the heart consider it? and he that keepeth thy soul, doth not he know it? and shall not he render to every man according to his works?
Proverbs 24:11-12
Servants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh; not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but in singleness of heart, fearing God: And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men; Knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ.

At the time of this writing, I am pursuing a religious exemption waiver for the COVID-19 vaccines due to my belief that it is morally unconscionable to profit in any way from research done on or with fetal cells. This is my primary, but by no means my only problem with these vaccines.

My moral dilemma is illustrated by the two verses above. I do not doubt that abortion and any procedure that profits from it is evil. However, I am a servant (literally - I’m not allowed to leave my job whenever I want) and it is pleasing to God that I obey my earthly masters, who have ordered me to take this vaccine.

My solution for this dilemma is to (lawfully) use the legal protections offered to me by my service to seek a religious exemption waiver. In this I am obeying my earthly masters (the alternative, to simply refuse a lawful order, would not please them or God) but not compromising my beliefs.

Below I offer some of the reasoning that I provide to anyone who asks me about this.

Circumstances cannot make evil good, but can only lessen our degree of culpability.

There is no way to be completely innocent if you have done an evil act. In this discussion I consider the morality of any act to have two parts:

Thus, even if you perform an evil act in ignorance or with good intentions, you cannot be totally blameless because the act itself is evil. At best, your individual culpability is lower than if you had acted in full knowledge. This is not a controversial position. Even our secular legal code includes statues for negligence as well as premeditated crimes. The latter carry more serious punishments than the former because the perpetrators of premeditated crime are judged to be more blameworthy than those who commit crimes of negligence.

Past ignorance does not grant future license.

This argument follows from the one above. Just because we were at one time unaware of our remote participation in evil does not mean we are blameless if we continue in this participation once we learn of it. In fact we are more blameworthy than we were beforehand.

Duress or coercion removes some individual culpability.

Military members seeking religious exemption from the COVID vaccines (or any other vaccines) are commonly criticized with some version of the following:

“When you joined the military, you had all kinds of mandatory vaccinations, most or all no doubt derived from HEK-293 or similar. What makes this one different?”

The answer, besides the defense from past ignorance I have already presented, is that being coerced to do something under threat of being thrown in prison is not morally equivalent to choosing it of your own free will. You are still remotely participating in evil, but your individual culpability (while not zero) is lower because you are being coerced. It was not your decision alone that led to the act being performed, and therefore all the blame cannot rest with you.

It is impossible to be completely free from very remote cooperation in evil.

By “cooperation” I mean that we, in some small way, contribute to an otherwise preventable act. When we buy things made by immoral means (blood diamonds, sneakers made with slave labor, etc.) we provide support to the makers and thus encourage the immoral means to be perpetuated.

HEK-293 in particular is used at least to test, if not develop, almost every drug available in the United States. This includes things you wouldn’t suspect, such as Tylenol, Pepto-Bismol, Claritin, and Lidocaine. Even certain food additives, flavorings, and such things are tested with HEK-293 or other fetal cell lines.

Even if it’s impossible in practice to avoid all contact with such items, we may still choose to avoid them to the best of our ability. Inaction is itself a moral decision, and moral laziness would have us dismiss this whole exercise as futile. However, it is our moral duty to limit our participation in evil, however remote, to the greatest extent possible. To that end, since it is possible for me to refuse the COVID vaccines, it is my moral duty to do so.

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Topics: covid politics theology