Are Volkswagons Immoral? (An Analogy)

Throughout certain recent discussions, some Catholics have argued that we can’t use medical products if tested on a fetal cell line. They use terms that grab a good Catholic’s conscience but are not accurate to the reality. They say things like the vaccines are “abortin-tainted,” or “made/developed on fetal cells.” I present an analogy below based on another common item connected to a past grave intrinsic evil: Volkswagon.


Volkswagon 82E, an early civilian car they made (Stahlkocher CC BY-SA 3.0)

The German Labour Front, an arm of the Nazis in Germany, founded Volkwagon in 1932. In fact, part of Nazification was replacing many prior unions with this pro-Nazi union. In 1934, it made a style of car for everyone directly at Hitler’s request. During World War II, Volkswagon used 15,000 slave laborers to build its cars, many of which came from concentration camps. Volkswagon also provided many Nazi military vehicles. The existence of Volkswagon today, and thus any Volkswagon vehicle, is in some remote way dependent on those concentration camp slaves. Obviously, this connection is quite remote such that it is moral to buy a Volkswagon. Thus, we cannot call current Volkswagons “slavery-tainted,” “made by concentration camp slaves,” or anything similar. This is despite 15,000 slaves working for them, and many likely worked to death.

The Church is clear: “The seventh commandment forbids acts or enterprises that for any reason – selfish or ideological, commercial, or totalitarian – lead to the enslavement of human beings, to their being bought, sold and exchanged like merchandise, in disregard for their personal dignity. It is a sin against the dignity of persons and their fundamental rights to reduce them by violence to their productive value or to a source of profit.” (CCC 2414) It is clear that the sin of slavery is grave and intrinsically evil. The added aspects of the Nazis and concentration camps make this even worse.

Fetal Cell Lines

When we look at something like the COVID vaccine, the connection to abortion is quite remote. It is more remote than a new Volkswagon to each of the thousands of Volkswagon slaves. The main two vaccines used in the USA (Pfizer and Moderna) were tested on HEK-293. First, a fetal cell line is not fetal cells or “aborted baby parts.” They are related, but they are separate and such separation and distance is essential for any analysis of cooperation.

I explained in 2021:

The fetal cell line is remotely connected to the aborted fetus it came from, but it is definitely not a part of the aborted fetus. The first scientist who takes cells from a fetus is obviously connected in a way morally equivalent to those experimenting on the fetal parts. However, once those cells are removed, the subsequent cells produced in the line are not part of the fetus. This is even more so if the fetal cell line is genetically modified in the process such as HEK293 which was immortalized by changing genes. By the time you get several passages (each passage is multiple cell divisions) away from the original fetal body part, it is also clear that even if unmodified, this is definitively not part of the fetus.

For HEK-293, we know that nobody had an abortion for the purpose of producing the cell line. Fr. Nicanor Austraico consulted with the originator and noted: “The exact origin of the HEK293 fetal cells is unclear. They could have come from either a spontaneous miscarriage or an elective abortion.” The people involved in creating the cell line were not at all involved with the abortions. The reason for their uncertainty is they would just receive unclaimed fetal remains from a local hospital for research. Tens of thousands of experiments have used HEK-293. Its purpose was not vaccines or even pharmaceutical research in its creation.

Further, HEK-293 was not part of the development or production of these vaccines, but only testing. I have never seen anyone explicitly state why this cell line was used. I suspect that it was due to the fact that others had already established COVID reactions on this cell line. If this is the case, skipping this test would have, at most, delayed the vaccines a few weeks. If this be the case, then if one waited a few weeks when they could receive the vaccine, they eliminated the issue causing the remote cooperation for them.


I keep seeing people online present misleading or directly incorrect information about the connection with abortion of COVID vaccines. I have already noted that the Vatican does not approve skipping vaccines for this, indicated that fetal cell lines are not fetal cells, given a long series of reductio ad absurdum to point out how remote the connection is (1, 2, 3, 4), indicated that the Pfizer and Moderna tests may have been moral, and pointed out the theological errors of Catholic “antivax” arguments. I’m not sure if another piece will change many people’s opinions, but I hold out hope.

Yes, Volkswagon used concentration camp slaves, but the connection is so remote that to argue a modern Volkswagon is “slavery-tainted” is unrealistic and misleading. Likewise, it is misleading to say the main two US COVID vaccines are “abortion-tainted.” Let’s help the last stragglers join us so practicing Catholics can continue to be the most-vaccinated religious group. Getting vaccinated is an act of charity. Vaccines have saved many lives and can save many more (US, EU). The connection is so remote, it is functionally irrelevant in a moral analysis.

Liked it? Take a second to support Fr. Matthew P. Schneider, LC on Patreon!
Become a patron at Patreon!


  1. I want to preface this by saying I am pro-vax and got the original series of COVID vaccines, so it’s a genuine question I am struggling with. If fetal cell lines are simply “biological artefacts” and only remotely connected to the abortion, does this mean any possible new cell lines derived from aborted babies will also be morally acceptable to have connected to drugs or treatments using those lines? After all, these will just be cell lines, and most abortions do not happen for the express purpose of creating a new cell line.

    1. There is definitely an immoral connection to the abortion of the one creating the cell line. But when a scientist uses that cell line for a test later & unconnected in any way to the abortion, that is a pretty remote connection. Further, the original scientists can have various degrees of connection to the abortion. The scientists who made HEK-293 just got all unclaimed fetal remains from a nearby hospital while in the making of Walvax-2, they seem to be more involved in choosing the patient and then doing a more painful form of abortion to get “fresher” cells.

      1. Thank you for your response! So, hypothetically, would using a drug or treatment that uses the Walvax-2 cell line in its testing or production be morally unproblematic since it’s still only a remote connection? Or does the way the way the original cells were procured change things? I really am struggling with this since abortion is *such* a grave evil. It’s hard for me to look at things objectively, so I appreciate your thoughts.

        1. It would depend. Testing vs production is a very different degree of cooperation, you would need to look at the drug too: if it works 1% better than another drug, that’s very different from a cancer drug where it’s the only option for that cancer or you will die.

Add your voice to the discussion