In recent months, Mark Shea has hosted his fair share of vaccination discussions. Reading the most recent Facebook thread–where-in Mark solicited his readers for their moral arguments against HPV vaccination–is a minor exercise in masochism. However, having tread through those waters, I think I know what some of the Anti-Specific-Vax readers are trying to convey: the problem of moral hazard.
Sin is sin because it harms one’s relationship with God, and sin also has temporal consequences that are actually ‘natural’ to the offense–that is, disordered actions result in more disorder. I like to use the analogy of the mom who tells Joey not to run in the house. Joey disobeys and breaks a precious vase in the process. The relationship was harmed regardless of whether or not that vase broke; the disobedience was the real, core offense. Now, we can easily see that Joey may have been reluctant to run around for two reasons: he didn’t want to offend his mother, and he didn’t want to break anything.
Now, the mom has the option of installing a safety device that could rapidly deploy to save falling objects. She is hesitant to install it for a variety of reasons, but one of them is this: she knows that installing the device will eliminate one of the reasons that Joey has for not running through the house. If she installs it, then Joey is certainly more likely to disobey. It will be nice for both mom and Joey to know that valuables are safe, but the likelihood of him committing this sin is greater. Breaking a vase accidentally isn’t sinful, but disobeying, running when against the rules, is sinful.
To be clear, I am not advocating that we not bother trying to rid the world of STDs. I think that we are called to always be merciful. If we have the cure for Syphilis, would we not give it to someone infected? Of course, we would, and we would give it even if the infection had just occurred–we don’t demand a period of suffering first. And that demonstrates a fundamental flaw in the moral hazard objection–namely, that the creation of an after-the-fact cure is just as likely to introduce moral hazard as is the vaccine. (Joey is more likely to run in the house if broken vases can be magically restored.)
Also, I believe that intentionality has been forsaken in this discussion. If my purpose, my motivation, for ridding the world of the natural consequences of disordered action is that I want people to be able to act with impunity, that I want them to be more comfortable with their disordered lives, then I would be erring. However, if my purpose is to bring grace and healing, to prevent suffering, then I am following the Master.
Is there a moral hazard? Yes, I think there is, but that is not good enough reason to abandon this healing ministry. Some, of course, will argue that giving Specific-Vax is not a healing ministry, and, on some level, that is true. No individual is healed in the receiving of a vaccination. However, humanity is healed in the process. Nobody was healed of smallpox by receiving the vaccine, but mankind has been collectively healed of the disease by vaccination. Thanks be to God!
Finally, I believe that this makes clear what the Pontifical Academy for Life meant in regard to the use of immorally produced for vaccines for proportionate good. Does the protection, from polio for example, of my child alone justify my mediate, material cooperation with the abortion that took place? Personally, I doubt it. But if my child’s vaccination is relatively important for the eradication of the disease, then, yes, my cooperation seems justified. We mustn’t forget that God uses even the most horrendous evils to produce good fruit.