ST. LOUIS — The St. Louis Archdiocesan Pro-Life Office says using a hepatitis vaccine derived from cell lines developed from an aborted fetus is morally acceptable because it is the only available alternative to the spread of the disease.

The office said it had been receiving inquiries about the ethics of such vaccinations since a law was enacted by St. Louis County ordering food handlers to be vaccinated. Some of them have refused to get the vaccine because of their pro-life views.

Hepatitis A (a viral infection of the liver) is usually contracted by consuming food or drinks handled by an infected person. The vaccination against it requires an initial shot followed by a booster shot.

In making its determination, the Pro-Life Office cited research by ethicist Edward Furton of the National Catholic Bioethics Center in Boston, who concluded it is permissible for a Catholic to receive the vaccine since the individual is not in immoral cooperation with the evil of abortion.

In an interview with the St. Louis Review, the archdiocesan newspaper, Father Edward Richard, professor of moral theology at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary in St. Louis, said he agreed with Furton's conclusions.

“There's no alternative if we want to prevent the spread of diseases and the consequences that flow from that,” Father Richard said.

“The use of the vaccine itself is not intrinsically evil. Certainly the origins are, but the person who uses it wants to do something positive.”

The Church wants to do all it can to promote life and the respect for life, he said. People who believe they should refuse the vaccine because it flows out of abortion “have very legitimate feelings about this — that it sends a message about their respect for life — and that is to be commended.”

However, Father Richard emphasized there is no other option available, not just in the case of the hepatitis A vaccine but also when it comes to rubella, chicken pox and other vaccines.

“No one should have to be put in this position. In spite of the fact that people find this totally abhorrent and want nothing to do with it, the moral principles of the Church always apply. One can morally use the vaccines.”

Father Richard said those who want to make a strong case against the health care industry must consider the protection of others and their own lives. “They cannot endanger the lives of others in the community,” the priest said.

Furton said adults have a moral obligation to provide vaccinations to their children, and operators of day-care centers also have a responsibility to protect children from potentially deadly diseases.

Father Richard said Catholics have “some positive obligations to fulfill in protecting the public, protecting children and protecting ourselves.

“These are serious. We are talking [about] not only potential but the likelihood that the disease would spread. The desire to be moral, in that respect, to protect ourselves when something is available, is the motivation for using a vaccine.”