Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Informing people about abortion and vaccines

Last week legislation was introduced in the Michigan Senate to require informed consent about vaccines and abortions. As far as we're aware, it's first of its kind in the nation.

This is necessary legislation. One of the most popular pages on the Right to Life of Michigan website is our page on vaccines and abortion. We have an excellent LifeNotes edition that calmly and logically explains how the connection works, which vaccines were produced using tissue from aborted babies, which alternatives exist, and gives people an ethical framework to make decisions about using these vaccines. We're biased, but we think it's the clearest discussion of the issue on the web.

Many people have read our information and asked their doctor or nurse about it. Sadly, many have contacted us, asking if we've made some sort of mistake. They've been told by medical professionals that abortions have nothing to do with vaccines. This has happened to Right to Life of Michigan staff. Our information is accurate, but it must sound too outlandish for some medical professionals, who then dismiss it out of ignorance.

It's routinely required for doctors and nurses to give proper informed consent. They have a duty to give patients accurate information, and the state has a duty to make sure these ethical obligations for informed consent are being fulfilled. When it comes to abortion and vaccines, what we often see is misinformed consent. This is a serious problem.

So far, the first critic of our legislation reached out to us on Twitter to engage his concerns. Dr. David Gorski is a Wayne State University professor and oncologist who runs a medical news blog.

Let's address some of the objections Dr. Gorski brings up, and ones others might have.

Right to Life of Michigan is anti-vax now!

No. We don't even take a position on the ethics of using a vaccines produced using tissue from an aborted baby. We will however ensure that those people who ethically object to using such vaccines will have their conscience rights protected. This bill in particular is merely informed consent, all it does is make sure patients have accurate information.

Dr. Gorski accuses Right to Life of Michigan of being puppets of anti-vax groups (or sinisterly using them ourselves). Nope. We will not engage in any vaccine issue outside of the issue of our mission on abortion. We will, however, protect the conscience rights of every person who ethically object to procedures that involve abortion in some way.

This bill has inaccurate information in it!

Dr. Gorski takes issue with our use of the words "fetal tissue." But those are not "our" words. Here are the words of the researchers who created the MRC-5 cell line used in the production of several FDA-approved vaccines:

“We have developed another strain of cells, also derived from foetal lung tissue, taken from a 14-week male foetus removed for psychiatric reasons from a 27 year old woman with a genetically normal family history and no sign of neoplastic disease both at abortion and for at least three years afterward.”

When the bill says people should be informed that the vaccine was "derived from aborted fetal tissue," that's exactly how the cell lines were created. Now, keep in mind, this is legal language to create a law; doctors will not have to literally read the bill text out-loud to every patient. The bill does not mandate that doctors or nurses have to give some inflammatory statement; the bill doesn't even mandate how patients are told, simply that they must be informed.

These abortions used to create these vaccines happened in the 1960s!

That's true, and it does play a role in debating the ethics of using these vaccines. However, we shouldn't pretend that fetal tissue is not used in ongoing medical research. Newer cell lines taken from aborted babies are used in current vaccine research. Giving tacit approval to the use of these lines without acknowledging how they are created will encourage future abuses.

Because even so many doctors are unaware of how these vaccines are produced, many patients are in the dark and unable to express their objections. This lack of informed consent is leading pharmaceutical companies to believe society in general has approved involving elective abortion in the medical research process. Society in general doesn't even know it's going on.

You want patients to die! This is a plot to get fewer people to use vaccines!

No. Though Dr. Gorski won't put it this way, he believes that this knowledge is too dangerous for patients to know. His concern is that people will hear this and be horrified and not use vaccines. The unspoken assumption he is making is that withholding information from patients—even information that might lead them to strongly object to a procedure—is an acceptable means to maintain trust in the medical system.

Think about that for a minute. The current vaccine controversy is due in-part to a gaping lack of trust in medical institutions. The concept that some information is too dangerous for patients to know will only lead to eroding that trust further. One could make the argument that people will die because they've lost even more faith in their doctors' and nurses' recommendations.

Why would people be horrified, as Dr. Gorski fears? Because they had no idea several vaccines were created using elective abortions. Doesn't that imply people should have been told that to begin with? Many will conclude this information has been withheld from them, and in some ways it has. Dr. Gorski would prefer they never learn about these facts.

Dr. Gorski also believes people may link this to other vaccine issues, like thimerosal, animal cell lines, etc. That may happen, but that's why people should be given accurate information from doctors and nurses, which this bill does. Dr. Gorski can't claim to want to give people accurate information about vaccines on one hand, and hide it with the other. Would Dr. Gorski rather patients hear about this issue from their doctors, or from the first website they find on a search engine?

Most of the vaccines produced using aborted fetal tissue have alternatives. Some do not. There is no medical need for abortion for vaccine research, however. The MMR vaccine (measles, mumps, rubella) is a perfect example: there used to be an ethical alternative. It's no longer on the market, but it's time for it to return.

This bill is simply informing people of medical facts. They have a right to know. If Dr. Gorski wants to argue patients don't have a right to know, he should just say that rather than trying to confuse people with conspiracy theories about prolife people.

The short-term goals of this bill are to fix the misinformation being spread by medical professionals today and educate people.

Our long-term hope is that people will speak with vaccine manufacturers and ask them to stop utilizing abortion as means for research and development. It's unnecessary, as proven by the current ethical alternatives.

If the fight over this bill is about trust in the medical system, treating people as incapable of making their own ethical decisions will further erode that already tenuous trust.