The MAGA “Prolife” Cult Twists Itself into a Moral Pretzel–Again

Published October 14, 2020

Time was when the MAGA “prolife” Cult held up Embryonic Stem Cell Research as one of the Five Non-Negotiables.

The 5NN, as you may recall, were the Five Things that Catholic Answers, with Zero Magisterial Authority Whatsoever, sold to the larval MAGA cult in 2004 as the Most Important Things Catholics had to keep in mind as they voted. They were abortion, euthanasia, gay marriage (though you have to say “homosexual” not gay or you are giving in to the Agenda by using one of Their words), human cloning, and Embryonic Stem Cell Research.

Almost immediately, these morphed into the Only Five Things That Matter and were instantly pitted against the victims of all the stuff the GOP wanted to do, such as war, torture, fiscal irresponsibility and the various ruinous policies of the Bush Administration that led to mass death in the mideast and economic catastrophe at home. None of that mattered, because only the 5NN mattered and any questioning of that meant you were Secretly Pro-Abortion and probably a Lib. Opposed to torture? Why do you care about that when babies are being aborted? Racism trouble you? The real (and only) racism is abortion! Capital punishment? Who cares if you kill a prisoner, even an innocent one, when babies are killed! Unjust war? It’s a prudential judgment! Abortion is gravely and intrinsically immoral!

As the years passed, the 5NNs started to evaporate away. Human cloning disappeared because nobody was doing it. Gay marriage vanished for the very good reason that GOP justice Anthony Kennedy, who already gave us the Casey decision, made it the law of the land and the vast majority of Americans, including the GOP, didn’t much care.

And along with that went ESCR. Why? Because Bush said it was fine and McCain underscored that in 2008, so the principled titans of the MAGA “prolife” movement rolled over like cocker spaniels wanting their bellies scratched.

Which brings us to now.

A residuum of “prolife” advocates clung to the idea that they should at least hector and accuse people who get vaccinations made from or with harvested fetal cells. So, for instance, here is “prolife” Folk Hero Abby Johnson declaring that any COVID vaccine or treatment will be automatically suspect, because using fetal tissue makes it Beyond the Pale:

Likewise, here is LifeNews, pouring out condemnation on Moderna for working on a vaccine using cell from aborted children. And likewise here. Indeed, over the years the MAGA “prolife” propaganda machine has made a cottage industry of attacking those who develop or use cures involving fetal cells or tissues from aborted babies.

That is, until last week, when the Greatest, Most Prolifeyest President in the History of Ever began touting the wondrous work of Regeneron and its wonder cures, which are made using fetal cells.

As is the case with many other science-focused biotechnology companies, Regeneron uses a wide variety of research tools and technologies to help discover and develop new therapeutics. Stem cells are one such tool. The stem cells most commonly used at Regeneron are mouse embryonic stem cells and human blood stem cells. Currently, there are limited research efforts employing human-induced pluripotent stem cell lines derived from adult human cells and human embryonic stem cells that are approved for research use by the National Institutes of Health and created solely through in vitro fertilization. Research using such stem cells allows Regeneron to model complex diseases, test new drug candidates and can help unlock new scientific insights that ultimately could lead to the discovery of new treatments for people with serious diseases.

Regeneron has gotten $500 million while President prolife was touting their work as a “cure” for COVID and “unbelievable”.

The response of the MAGA “prolife” community that has spent years beating innocent people over the head for getting vaccinations or drugs sourced in such fetal cell based research and calling those who do complicit in the murder of the unborn?

Why, sudden, principle-free, 180 degree reversal and approval for their god king, of course:

Antiabortion groups told Insider they took no issue with the fact that one of President Donald Trump’s COVID-19 treatments — which he is now vowing to make available to all Americans — was tested using cells that originally came from an abortion.

It is a research practice Trump has severely restricted during his presidency and one pro-life groups have vehemently opposed.

To treat Trump, doctors gave him supplemental oxygen and treatments including a steroid typically used in severe COVID-19 cases and an experimental antibody cocktail created by the US biotech company Regeneron.

To test the antibody cocktail’s effectiveness, Regeneron used an “immortalized epithelial cell line,” or cells that were altered in a lab so they could last forever when they otherwise would not. These cells, now called HEK 293T cells, were derived from the kidneys of a fetus that was aborted in 1972 in the Netherlands.

When Insider asked three antiabortion organizations — the Heritage Foundation, Texas Alliance for Life, and Pro-Life Action League — about the origin of Trump’s COVID-19 treatment, they demurred.

In the past, antiabortion advocates have spoken out against medical treatments that use components derived from aborted fetal tissue at any point in the creation and testing processes, including experimental coronavirus vaccines.

However, each group told Insider they would not engage in this controversy — some because they said they believed the cells used in testing bore little connection to the 1972 abortion and others because the antibody cocktail itself didn’t contain traces of fetal tissue.

One organization’s executive director told Insider they had no criticism of Trump and supported him because he opposes abortion and has vowed to overturn Roe v. Wade, which would remove Americans’ automatic right to abortion.

Yes. You read that right. Trump gets to promote technologies which, the day before he started promoting them, we condemned as non-negotiable moral issues by such Cult propagandists as LifeNews–Because Abortion.

Ironies here abound. In actual Catholic teaching the response to the rise of these technologies has been much more nuanced than in the “prolife” MAGA Cult. The Church basically says “Try to have ethically sourced treatments wherever possible, but we get that the need to save human lives is of great importance and the source material for some of this is so remotely attenuated that it’s nuts to refuse, say, a German Measles vaccine that can save thousands of lives. So it’s okay to get the vaccine, but still try to create medicines that don’t involve abortion wherever possible.” Here is the conclusion of the Vatican document that analyzes this problem, written in standard ecclesialese:

“To summarize, it must be confirmed that:

  • there is a grave responsibility to use alternative vaccines and to make a conscientious objection with regard to those which have moral problems;
  • as regards the vaccines without an alternative, the need to contest so that others may be prepared must be reaffirmed, as should be the lawfulness of using the former in the meantime insomuch as is necessary in order to avoid a serious risk not only for one’s own children but also, and perhaps more specifically, for the health conditions of the population as a whole – especially for pregnant women;
  • the lawfulness of the use of these vaccines should not be misinterpreted as a declaration of the lawfulness of their production, marketing and use, but is to be understood as being a passive material cooperation and, in its mildest and remotest sense, also active, morally justified as an extrema ratio due to the necessity to provide for the good of one’s children and of the people who come in contact with the children (pregnant women);
  • such cooperation occurs in a context of moral coercion of the conscience of parents, who are forced to choose to act against their conscience or otherwise, to put the health of their children and of the population as a whole at risk. This is an unjust alternative choice, which must be eliminated as soon as possible.”

This is perfectly reasonable. It’s also not what the MAGA Cult says, and still less what Trump says. So instead of holding a sane position, the MAGA cult has whipsawed from guilt-mongering with anti-vax nonsense to giving carte blanche to Trump’s promotion of fetal treatments full speed ahead and without the slightest thought for their sources.

The point is this: actual, sane, real, prolife adherents of the Church’s actual teaching just go on saying what they have always said: Try to get medicines that do not originate in cells and tissues of aborted fetuses if at all possible. But if you can’t, you are not sinning to get vaccinatedbecause we are looking at very remote cooperation with evil, like buying gum at a store that employs a guy whose brother makes porn with his camera. Do what you can to work with ethical vaccines, but don’t let that stop you from giving your kid an MMR shot.

The Cult, in contrast, guilts people out about remote material cooperation with evil right up until the second it pivots to promote active and direct cooperation with evil by protecting a President who urgently calls for treatments that use fetal materials. It’s all good suddenly. Because it’s Trump and he will magick abortion away someday. So this thing we’ve pretended to condemn for years is suddenly great–because Trump says so.

The MAGA Cult has goals, not principles. In the end, nothing matters to it but raw, nihilist, predatory power for the sake of power.

12 Responses

  1. Thank you, Mark. That question had been bothering me, although I am not directly concerned, and I did not know where to find the appropriate information. Now, I can stop worrying about it, and even, if I need to, give a good reply.

  2. I didn’t really know anti-vax was a thing amongst Catholics until my wife and I had a baby. Then, as if by magic, all sorts of people came out of nowhere to tell us not to vaccinate because of side effects or because they use aborted fetal tissue. It was strange, like the time I first encountered Catholics who were also young earth creationists. I suppose when you live in a tent as large as the Catholic Church, you’ll get a little bit of everything.

    I’m not surprised these people are fine with Regeneron. When I tried to tell some friends about an interview where a local Republican politician
    (who was touted as the only moral pro-life choice) told a reporter that abortion is ultimately a choice between a woman and her doctor, I was ignored and told I still had to vote for him.

  3. “ The MAGA Cult has goals, not principles. In the end, nothing matters to it but raw, nihilist, predatory power for the sake of power.”

    I think you are being extremely unfair here— to use Trump’s favorite word. Its also about money. 50 years of grifting on the abortion issue, And that ol’ cash cow is still producing a river of the stuff. No one wants that to dryup.

    It’s just like gay marriage. Convince a farmer in Kansas that two guys he doesn’t know in New York who are getting married are just the Worst Thing Ever, are a threat, and perhaps even make the Baby Jesus cry, and he won’t notice that the farm bill you just passed will eventually result in his signing his great great grandfather’s farm over to Big Agriculture. Nor will he care that the Trump Administration handing over those large, increased farm subsidies and relief right before the election are THE EVIL SOSHULIZM that he so rightly fears because they told him to, even when he has no idea what it actually is. MY 30 minute google search is at least as valid and valuable as YOUR 10 years in medical school, and I got the guns to prove it.

    Uppity WIMMENS!!! Uppity GEYZ!!! Uppity NEGROES!!! Uppity MESKINS!!! Uppity JOOS!!! You know what they all have in common? THREE EXCLAMATION POINTS!!!

    It’s the politics of resentment and the politics of fear. Their bastard twins are Sociopathy and Tribalism. And it is represented by a very common logo I’ve seen in the south: the pig in a chefs hat selling barbecue.

  4. Abby Johnson is like every other abortion activist I’ve ever known. She says shocking things to get her subscribers riled up, and then stands back and waits for the dollars to roll in. Getting a legit job or devoting her time to her children that need her would be–what can I say–a bit boring.

    I remember when Fr. Marx, the head of HLI said something like this at the dinner table: “When I’m down in Mexico, I tell the Mexicans: have lots of babies! Have so many babies that you out-populate all those sterile death peddlers! Come back up to the U.S. and take it over!” We all sat there for a second with mouths gaping open until someone gave an appreciative chuckle. That would show them! We’d employ our secret weapon! Mexicans having lots and lots of babies!

    I suppose being a simple parish priest who wasn’t jetting around the world to give talks would have been terribly boring too.

  5. Admittedly, this is a difficult topic to understand. The Church writings on the topic require careful reading to understand their conclusions, and I doubt most people could understand the reasoning if they are not previously familiar with the principles of moral cooperation.

    Since we’ve neglected catechesis so badly in the US for decades, a large percentage of Catholics don’t even know what the Church teaches about central topics like the Eucharist. I daresay few have taken an ethics class and remember it well, and even among those who have, it might not have been classical ethics that covers moral cooperation. It can be very difficult to make sense of the Church’s conclusions on this topic without that background understanding.

    So this is a topic that takes patience, precision, and charity to convince others. The standard internet debate tactics of sarcasm and prejudging motives will, as they almost always do, further alienate others, especially with others trying to confuse and manipulate them (eg – the easiest way to convince a hardline Trump supporter who opposes stem cell research that it’s actually ok is to demand they condemn Trump for accepting a stem cell treatment).

    Now specific to what the Church has said about the development of medical treatments, rather than use of treatments someone else developed: there are bound to be numerous Catholics among the companies and government agencies trying to treat COVID-19 who face a more difficult moral challenge. To be honest, I don’t think I have a solid enough grasp of these considerations that I can give a compelling reply if someone challenges me with the overly simplified scenario:

    – The stem cell line already exists. I can kill no one and develop a vaccine effective enough to provide herd immunity, or
    – I can do nothing and let 45 million people die (world population x estimated infection fatality rate)

    The actually hoped for scenario, of course, is that we can develop effective vaccines not dependent on embyonic stem cell lines, but time is a factor, too. 5500 people are dying per day globally. That rate is increasing once again, especially in Europe and Asia, and it may have just reversed its recent downward trend in the America’s, too. Moderna has one of the leading vaccine candidates, so with epidemiologists predicting another 1/2 million deaths just in the next 3 months (or the possibility of more stay-at-home orders to buy more time), it’s hard not to want to support them.

    1. Did you actually read the article you linked?

      “REGN-COV2 is the result of painstaking research since the 1970s that began with a cell line known as HEK293 that is commonly believed to have been derived from an aborted fetus. HEK293 cells are widely used in medical research.”

    2. You are in such hurry to defend your cult leader that you did not read your own link. Also, you did not read the Lifesite links that were condemning the use of HEK293 cells right up until your cult began defending Trump for boosting Regeneron. Thanks for demonstrating once against that your cult has no principles, just goals.

      1. @joel why did you conveniently leave out the sentences that immediately follow what you quoted? Here it is:

        Over the years, researchers have transformed the cell line into what today is known as HEK293T, leading to the determination that it is no longer fetal tissue.

        I gave part of the quote from Regeneron’s Communications Director as part of the link. Here’s the fuller exerpt:

        Alexandra Bowie, senior director of corporate communications at Regeneron, told Catholic News Service that “fetal tissue was not used” in the company’s research using the HEK293T cell line.
        “We did not use human stem cells or human embryonic cells in the development of REGN-COV2,” Bowie added.
        The company Oct. 7 applied to the FDA for emergency approval for the experimental drug.
        Father Tadeusz Pacholczyk, director of education and ethicist at the National Catholic Bioethics Center, agreed with the company’s stance, saying in an email to CNS the drug is manufactured in hamster cells, “not cells derived from human abortions.”

        @Mark, I will ignore your accusation and faulty assumption about me within the context of this post, and simply say that my intention was to invite you to comment on the content of that article I linked. HEK293 cell lines are in the bio accessment tool that they use, not in the materials that make up REGN-COV2. Does this constitute “remote material cooperation with evil” if this was the only tool available for them to use? Please comment.

      2. Over the years, researchers have transformed the cell line into what today is known as HEK293T, leading to the determination that it is no longer fetal tissue.

        Those who object to using such cells do not object that the cells are foetal tissue, but that they are derived from foetal tissue.
        But perhaps you already knew that 🙂

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