Further Letter to MP regarding Foetal Cell Lines in Vaccine Production and Testing

Dear & Honourable Mr Burghart,

Thank you for your response of 15 March 2021, in which you addressed my concerns that many vaccines in the UK, including those for the current covid-19 crisis, are sometimes produced and usually tested in human cells derived from aborted foetuses.

You rightly quote from the 2017 document of the Pontifical Academy for Life (which if I may compare Vatican documents to Parliamentary ones, is a kind of Select Committee report for Catholics); this states

we believe that all clinically recommended vaccinations can be used with a clear conscience and that the use of such vaccines does not signify some sort of cooperation with voluntary abortion.

Taken alone, this statement might appear to be an unproblematic invitation to Catholics to simply accept any vaccine offered. However, this statement must be read alongside the more formal 2008 document Dignitas Personae, which has a weight comparable to a manifesto committment made by a winning party. Here paragraph 35 sets out clearly that Catholics who accept a tainted vaccine for the sake of the common good must lobby Government and industry until an untainted alternative can be provided.

I am grateful that you have indicated a willingness to “explore the issue” with colleagues in the Department of Health and Social Care. Since my first letter to you, it has come to my attention that the US-based Charlotte Lozier Institute is collating research on whether foetal cell-lines are used in the development, mass production and testing of numerous covid-19 vaccines, with results tabulated online. There are now a number of vaccines available – though not yet cleared through UK safety testing – which make no use whatsoever of foetal cell-lines.

The UK is a pioneer in the field of diversity, requiring by law reasonable adjustments to accommodate disability and respecting a wide range of sexual preferences in orientation and identity. It would be entirely in keeping with our committment to diversity to recognise that adherents of certain religions are duty bound to avoid abortion-tainted vaccines whenever possible, and for the NHS to respond by ensuring that at least of one these untainted vaccines is put forward for regulatory approval and then made available for use at a small number of regional centres to which conscientious objectors could travel.

I received my first dose of the problematic AstraZeneca vaccine in March and will therefore receive the second dose as scheduled in June, but I would avail of any ethical alternative provided should booster shots become necessary in due course.

Thank you for taking my concerns seriously, and I hope this further information will be of use as you explore the issues further with colleagues at DHSC.

Yours Sincerely,

Revd Dr Gareth Leyshon

Letter to MP regarding Foetal Cell Lines in Vaccine Production and Testing

The Vatican has advised Catholics that they may use any covid-19 vaccine produced or tested using cell lines which originate in historic abortions, as long as they have a serious reason for doing so. Given the lethal potential of this virus, the impact on one’s dependents and the capacity of the health service, as well as the growing evidence that vaccines reduce a person’s ability to spread covid-19, such a serious reason exists in this case. But Catholics are also asked to put “pressure on the political authorities and health systems so that other vaccines without moral problems become available”. I recently sent this letter to my MP and am happy to make the text available for others to use freely.

Dear (MP Name), I am a constituent resident at (give your address, as the MP must known you are a constituent to deal with your message.)

The rush to produce and deploy vaccines on a global scale has brought a new focus on the ways in which vaccines are manufactured and tested using products derived from aborted human foetuses. This applies not only to covid-19 vaccines but other vaccines which have been in routine use for children and adults, for many years. 

I am sure you will recognise that this is distasteful to many, and a moral red line for some, even though it has been a scientific ‘necessity’ to achieve the ends of life-saving vaccinations for much of the last 50 years. Should the Government move to introduce any kind of vaccine ‘passport’ scheme, this will place conscientious objectors to such vaccines in a very difficult position.

Let me make my own stance clear: when I am called to receive a vaccine, I will accept it as the socially responsible thing to do, but with a heavy heart; I will seek to receive an mRNA vaccine (not developed, only tested, in embryo cell lines) rather than the other options if I have any freedom to do so; and I am raising my voice in protest at the limited options available by the act of writing this letter.

Due to my own religious and moral views, I would very much prefer that abortion were outlawed; but I recognise that this is not an achievable goal in the UK in the foreseeable future. Based on scientific evidence, I recognise that there are strong advantages to the pharmaceutical industry in comparing new products against well-established standards derived from embryo cell lines; moving away from these standards is not technically impossible but requires the force of funding and legislation to overcome inertia.

As my Parliamentary representative, I would therefore ask you to work towards two goals, which would at least move towards minimising the issues for conscientious objectors and maximising the uptake of future vaccines. These goals are:

 (1) Requiring prioritised Government funding to develop ethical cell lines which can be used for developing and testing vaccine products;

 (2)  As soon as these ethical cell lines are sufficiently developed, requiring by legislation that these cells, rather than embryo-derived cells, be used for quality control checks on any vaccine made available in the UK.

I attach a short paper setting out the rationale for each of these steps.

As your constituent, I assure you of my prayers for your work and well-being in these strange times.

Yours Sincerely,


Cell lines are used to develop and test vaccines because they are human cells detached from a living human body which can be grown at scale in a laboratory. Some vaccines rely on modifying a mild virus to resemble part of the dangerous virus; these mild viruses must be grown in human, not animal, cells for maximum effectiveness. Other vaccines – the innovative mRNA vaccines – can be synthesised chemically, but still need to be tested for safety and quality by their effect on human cells.

Some of the available cell-lines are ‘immortalized’ – they have been manipulated so that they will keep reproducing indefinitely (the successful strains represent ‘happy accidents’ since our ability to manipulate is currently based on limited knowledge). These strains include[1] the HEK293 cells used to test vaccines and to grow the anticovid AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine – and the PER.C6 strain for the Johnson & Johnson one shot vaccine recently authorised in the USA. Insofar as the abortions which gave rise to these cell lines are irreversible historic events, these cells can be used without ‘encouraging’ future abortions.

Vaccines for other serious diseases are gown in cell lines which are not immortalised. The British MRC-5 line, the American WI-38 line and Chinese Walvax-2 line are regularly used, but these cells, like all non-cancerous cells in the human body, can only reproduce themselves a limited number of times. In the UK,[2] the MRC-5 and WI-38 lines are used to produce the rubella component of the MMR vaccine, and vaccines against chickenpox and shingles. These cell lines will eventually lose their capacity to reproduce, and will need to be replaced – but by what? By procuring cells from a fresh abortion?

We now have the ability to take cells from consenting adult donors and regress them to a near-embryonic stage – such cells are known as induced pluripotent stem cells. These are less ideal candidates for growing vaccines because (at our current ability to manipulate them) they will not retain their pluripotent status forever; they also impede scientists’ ability to match ‘like with like’ in reviewing historical data against current research. Nevertheless, if there were sufficient reason to do so (positive funding, and legislation restricting the use of embryonic cell lines), ways could be found to use these totally ethical cell lines to produce and test vaccines at scale.

The UK Parliament has always recognised that there is a grave issue of conscience around abortion. Free votes are permitted to MPs; there is a (limited) right of conscientious objection by medical practitioners who do not wish to perform terminations. We should therefore recognise that similar grave issues of conscience apply to those who wish to take a vaccine for the common good but do not wish to be tainted in any way by co-operating with a historic abortion, still less consuming a limited resource which may one day require replenishment by a future abortion. This should be sufficient reason to implement goal 1 now (fund research to enable ethical adult-derived cells to become useful for growing and testing vaccines) and goal 2 as soon as technically feasible (where the Government requires quality control testing, this must be done using ethical cells).

[1] https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2020/06/abortion-opponents-protest-covid-19-vaccines-use-fetal-cells 

[2] https://vk.ovg.ox.ac.uk/vk/vaccine-ingredients#human-cell-strains and https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/use-of-human-and-animal-products-in-vaccines/guide-to-the-use-of-human-and-animal-products-in-vaccines 

Re-defining “marriage” is social engineering which privileges homosexuals above religious believers

I have today sent the following letter to my local MP. If you agree with any of the sentiments in it, please feel free to lift sentences or paragraphs for your own use.

Dear Mr Doughty,

I am the RC Parish Priest of St John Lloyd, covering Rumney, Trowbridge and St Mellons. Firstly, let this letter serve as an introduction, and congratulations on your recent election.

I am writing at this time to express my concern about the Prime Minister’s proposals for the re-definition of Marriage.

I recognise that, in common with many Western democracies, the UK has changed its position greatly in recent decades, first decriminalising homosexual acts, and then introducing Civil Partnerships. We have also introduced Equalities Legislation protecting the rights of religious believers to practice and manifest their faith.

Adherents of many traditional religions, including my own, sincerely believe that homosexual acts are morally wrong, and that same-sex relationships should be given no privileged status in law. As an elected politician in a liberal democracy, while I do not expect that you will necessarily agree with this religious viewpoint, I do firmly hope that you will be committed to defending the freedom of religious believers to hold this position without suffering discrimination from the State.

When the legislation introducing Civil Partnerships was introduced, no recognition was made of the plight of those working as Registrars who held traditional religious views and who felt, in good conscience, that they could not preside at Civil Partnerships. I would have wished for the law to provide them with either a guaranteed opt-out from doing so while keeping their jobs, or else a generous severance package recognising that new legislation had changed the job description to the extent that they could no longer perform it. If this had been done, it would have sent out a strong signal that Britain was equally serious about eliminating anti-gay discrimination and about protecting religious rights. But such provision was not made.

Now, since Civil Partnerships already exist and grant same-sex couples almost all the legal rights applicable to married couples, it is clear that the Prime Minister’s move to re-define marriage has very little to do with extending legal rights, and much to do with sending out a message. It is a message which encroaches on the position of religious believers who have their own clear understanding of what constitutes marriage.


  • The Manipulation of Language

At the moment, the terms “marriage”, “husband” and “wife” have clear meanings in law and in everyday language. They clearly identify the institution of a man and woman who have pledged themselves to one another, to form a family.

Now that the law allows alternative lifestyle choices to exist, both by recognising Civil Partnerships, and by accommodating legal recognition of elective gender-change, we have social arrangements which have no traditional language to describe them. New reproductive technology involving donor eggs or sperm, and surrogate pregnancy, also introduces new kinds of relationships.

The Prime Minister has said that he doesn’t want same-sex couples “excluded from a great institution”. But what is proposed is not “opening up” marriage but changing its meaning. Redefining marriage would mean that there would be no word available for those who wanted to indicate that they were partnered to a person of the opposite sex. The legal definition would have such a knock-on effect on the use of language that the idea that there’s something special about the union of a man and woman to produce their own children becomes almost unsayable.

Is Parliament so confident that this is the right use of language for British society that it wishes to drive through such a change? And how does this respect the rights of religious minorities for whom the word “marriage” has a clear and traditional meaning?


  • Implications for Schools

Section 403 of The Education Act 1996 requires that pupils in maintained schools “learn the nature of marriage and its importance for family life and the bringing up of children”. At the moment, therefore, schools are required to teach that it is important for society that a man and a woman form a stable partnership within which they are likely to conceive children and provide them with a stable home.

If the nature of marriage were to be redefined, schools would automatically be required to teach a different message: “In Modern Britain, it’s a good thing that any two adults can form a vowed partnership. They may want to bring up children so if they are of the same sex, they can ask someone else to help them produce a child which they will then bring up as if it were their own.”

I am sure that many people in liberal Britain would be at ease with the above statement, but a significant minority – especially, but not only, religious believers – would not. The existing provision is not discriminatory against homosexuals, because it respects the intrinsic requirement that male and female parents are needed to conceive a child.

The re-defined provision would be discriminatory against religious believers, as it would make state schools responsible for advocating a position which many religious believers cannot agree with.

If redefinition of marriage cannot be avoided, would you support the repeal of Section 403 of The Education Act 1996 (and any parallel legislation), so that the state schools can take a neutral stance on redefined marriage? A neutral stance is the only position which favours neither homosexual rights nor religious perspectives.


  • Religious Organisations and Same-Sex Ceremonies

Culture Secretary Maria Miller has announced proposals to allow religious organisations to opt-in to conducting same-sex marriages subject to a “quadruple lock”. Given that some Quakers, Liberal Jews and other religious groups advocate same-sex relationships, I as a representative of another religion have no business telling them what kind of relationships they should or should not bless. But unless a major religion has a clear and long-established tradition of promoting same-sex relationships under the name of marriage – and I am not aware of any which does – the Culture Secretary’s proposals should be applied to legislating for religious groups to conduct Civil Partnerships.

In Conclusion

Mr Doughty, to choose to redefine marriage sends a signal that in today’s Britain, the rights of same-sex couples are held in higher esteem than the rights of religious believers, because the change now proposed is not an extension of legal rights but an act of social engineering. I ask you to resist the zeitgeist of ever-increasing liberalisation by recognising that true and balanced equality for homosexuals and religious believers in modern Britain requires not a redefinition of marriage, but merely fine-tuning of the law so that same-sex couples have the same legal rights as married couples.

If you are not convinced that you should oppose the re-definition of marriage, would you at least recognise that it is best for schools to adopt neutrality rather than advocate for “new marriage”?

Yours sincerely,

Revd Gareth Leyshon, PhD, MA (Keble, 1994), BTh