A Catholic U.S. Coast Guard officer has filed suit to prevent being forced to receive a Hepatitis vaccination derived from the remains of an aborted child, WorldNetDaily reports.
Lt. Cmdr. Joseph Healy, represented by the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), filed a complaint last week in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The complaint charges the government with using its own arbitrary judgment of what constitutes Catholic theology while permitting religious exemptions to others, effectively discriminating against Healy’s sincerely-held religious beliefs.
Healy had requested a religious exemption from using the Hepatitis A vaccine, which is part of a broad spectrum of vaccine regulations required for active-duty personnel. The Hepatitis vaccine was made mandatory in May 2006. The present vaccine is based on lung cells taken from an elective abortion performed at 14 weeks forty years ago, though a vaccine derived from animal sources is awaiting FDA approval.
In his exemption request, Healy cited a 2005 letter from the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy for Life, which condemned the use of cell lines from abortions in vaccines. The letter, titled "Moral Reflections on Vaccines Prepared From Cells Derived From Aborted Human Fetuses,” supported Catholics’ right to refuse such treatment, but did not require that refusal. The document was approved by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
The letter was written in response to an inquiry from a Florida Catholic group concerned that the Church had no official statement opposing the vaccines. The group believed the absence of any such statement could be used to deny religious exemptions for Catholics with conscientious objections to using such treatments in mandatory vaccines for schoolchildren.
The Vatican letter condemned “every form of formal co-operation” directly involved in manufacturing the vaccine, and categorized those marketing the vaccine as culpable in “passive material co-operation.” However, it categorized the vaccine’s use by doctors and children’s parents as "very remote mediate material cooperation," and thus not necessarily blameworthy.
In May, 2007, Lt. Cmdr. Healy’s request for exemption, though citing this document, was overruled by Capt. Brett Pennington, who stated in a letter to Healy Catholic teaching "does not state that these immunizations are against the religious tenets of the Catholic Church." Capt. Pennington said that refusal to be vaccinated would be a failure to comply with a lawful order, and that Healy would be subject to military legal proceedings for his non-compliance.
In his letter to Healy Capt. Pennington also referenced an opinion from the National Catholic Bioethics Center that held receiving a vaccine derived from an abortion does not constitute morally problematic cooperation with an abortion.
Healy’s attorney, Matt Bowman of the Alliance Defense Fund, argued that the refusal of a religious exemption amounted to a governmental definition of Roman Catholic theology, in violation of the U.S. Constitution. Bowman said it was "most troubling that the government would decide some religions get exemptions and others do not based on their own arbitrary judgments."
"Members of the U.S. military should never be forced to make an unconstitutional choice between honoring their country and honoring their faith," Bowman also said.
Debi Vinnedge, head of the Catholic group Children of God for Life, said "We need a stronger statement" if Catholics are to get the exemption. She noted that in Florida members of the Lutheran Church are more likely to be given exemptions from mandatory vaccinations for their children because their denomination has a stronger statement about the immorality of using vaccines derived from abortions.