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Michigan Senate Bill 1055: Antivaccine fear mongering masquerading as “informed consent” about “fetal parts” in vaccines

Antivaxers frequently try to appeal to antiabortion activists by claiming “fetal parts” are used in vaccines. In Michigan, they’re trying to enshrine such deceptive efforts into law in Michigan Senate Bill 1055, which would mandate “informed consent” regarding vaccines for which fetal cell lines are used to grow the virus. In reality, this would be misinformed consent and a strategy to frighten parents out of vaccinating.

One of the favorite (and most effective) tactics of the antivaccine3 movement is to frighten parents who might have a propensity to distrust medicine (and vaccines) or parents who don’t now enough science to know better with stories designed to portray vaccines as somehow dangers. Regardless of the specific claim made, the message, first, foremost, and always, is that vaccines are dangerous in some way and are The One True Cause of autism, sudden infant death syndrome, diabetes, encephalitis, asthma, autoimmune diseases, and basically any chronic illness or medical condition under the sun. True, the main claim is that vaccines somehow cause autism, which was the basis of the MMR scare promoted by Andrew Wakefield beginning 20 years ago. Around the same time, the fear mongering began about a preservative that was used in several childhood vaccines, thimerosal. Because thimerosal contains mercury, it was deemed frightening and obviously the cause of autism. It is this myth that’s been promoted by, more than anyone else, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. Again, the idea is that vaccines are somehow “contaminated” with something awful that is wreaking all sorts of havoc with our children. This brings us to another such claim, the claim that vaccines are made from “aborted fetal tissue,” a claim at the heart of a new bill that the Michigan (my state) legislature is considering, Senate Bill 1055:

Today Michigan Senate Bill 1055 was introduced to require informed consent for vaccines produced using cell lines taken from aborted babies.

The bill would require the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services to maintain an online list of vaccines produced using tissue from aborted babies, as well as alternative vaccines developed without using such tissue. As part of informed consent, health care providers would be required to provide that information to patients before administering vaccines produced using tissue from aborted babies.

Right to Life of Michigan Barbara Listing said, “The existence of these vaccines requires patients and parents to make important ethical decisions. Sadly, many people are unaware of these facts, including many doctors and nurses. Patients need accurate information to make informed decisions, and many are not getting that now.”

Several current vaccines approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration are produced using two cells lines derived from tissue from electively-aborted babies in the 1960s: MRC-5 and WI-38. The cell lines are used to produce the viruses used in vaccines.

The claim that vaccines are made using “aborted fetal tissue” is one of those falsehoods that contain just enough grain of truth to them to sound plausible and convincing to some people. Of course, that grain has been twisted and stomped into unrecognizable shapes, just as the science regarding the production of vaccines has been in order to render vaccines scary. (Indeed, one particularly kooky antivaxer, Sayer Ji, even likened vaccination to “cannibalism” based on this concept.) If you listen to some antivaxers tell it, evil vaccine makers have been harvesting aborted fetuses in order to grind them up and make vaccines out of them. The truth, of course, is far different, and I’ve written about it several times before. Others have noted incredibly minute residual amounts of DNA (we’re talking low single digit picograms) from these fetal cell lines detectable using very powerful PCR amplification techniques and tried to represent that as “injecting fetal cells” along with the vaccine, even though the amount of residual DNA is just too small to have any detectable effect on health. (I’m talking to you, Theresa Deisher.) Indeed, Deisher and other antiabortion activists have tried to claim that this tiny amount of residual DNA can cause autism, invoking mechanisms that are too hilariously off-base to recount in full here. Two words: Homologous recombination, or, as one antivaxer hilariously misspelled it, homologous recombinaltion tiniker.

In fact, fear mongering about “fetal parts” in vaccines is, not surprisingly, a distortion of the real situation, which is that the human cell lines used to make some vaccines were originally derived from human fetuses. Specifically, the WI-38 cell line is a human diploid fibroblast cell line derived from a three month old fetus aborted in 1962 in the US. Another cell line, MRC-5, was derived from lung fibroblasts of a 14 week old fetus in 1966 in the United Kingdom. These are currently the only fetal cell lines used to grow viruses for vaccines, with most other vaccines requiring cell lines using animal cell lines (which, of course, leads antivaccinationists to disparage them as “dirty” and using “monkey cells” and the like). In any case, the only commonly used vaccines in which these cell lines are utilized currently include these vaccines, in which the virus is grown up in fetal embryo fibroblast cells: Varicella (chickenpox), rubella (the “R” in the MMR vaccine), hepatitis A, one version of the shingles vaccine, and one preparation of rabies vaccine. Worth noting, the rubella vaccine is not only grown on a human cell line, the vaccine virus was recovered from a fetus that was aborted because the mother had rubella. It also turns out that vaccines in which the virus used in the vaccine was grown in such cells have been responsible for preventing billions of cases of disease and preventing many millions of deaths.

In reality, the eagerness of antivaxers to portray vaccines as somehow “contaminated” or even “ritually unclean” is the motivation for trumpeting how some vaccines are produced by growing the virus used in them in fetal fibroblasts. Basically, the idea is to convince parents belonging to religions that teach that abortion is murder that vaccines are evil because they are the product of abortion. Sometimes the way the message is conveyed uses the more or less accurate statement that cells from an aborted fetus are used in the production of some vaccines. Other times, the statements go straight into the aforementioned crazytown, in which it is implied (and sometimes even stated) that fetal “tissue” is used to make vaccines, thus suggesting that the vaccine industry continues to harvest fetuses to make vaccines. Of course, the fetal fibroblast cells used to grow vaccine viruses were first obtained from elective termination of two pregnancies in the early 1960s, have continued to grow in the laboratory and, are used to make vaccines today. No further sources of fetal cells are needed to make these vaccines.

Never mind that all major religions support vaccination and that the Catholic Church, the most antiabortion religion of all, has has said that it is morally acceptable to use such vaccines, although the official statement from the Pontifical Academy for Life does urge scientists to develop vaccines that don’t use these cell lines Basically, the Church concluded that the extreme good of protecting children’s lives far outweighed the distant evil (in the Church’s view) that created the cell lines, concluding in a FAQ, “There would seem to be no proper grounds for refusing immunization against dangerous contagious disease, for example, rubella, especially in light of the concern that we should all have for the health of our children, public health, and the common good” and “It should be obvious that vaccine use in these cases does not contribute directly to the practice of abortion since the reasons for having an abortion are not related to vaccine preparation.”

None of this stops antivaxers from making it sound that continuing to use vaccines in which the WI-38 or MRC-5 cell lines are used to grow virus contributes to more abortions. That’s the basis of Senate Bill No. 1055 (SB 1055), whose text can be found here, which was introduced by Sens. Tonya Schuitmaker, Mike Kowall, Patrick Colbeck, Judy Emmons, Joe Hune, and Mike Shirkey. Gee, why am I not surprised that my state senator, Patrick Colbeck, is one of the sponsors? I’ve discussed him a number of times before. He’s pretty much an all purpose rightwing wingnut, whom I first wrote about when he advertised a showing of an antivaccine propaganda film in my district. I further noted his efforts to make measles great again in Michigan through sponsoring a spectacularly dumb “health freedom” law and ultimately concluded that he’s gone full-on antivaccine. I also noticed that he’s into wifi and EMF fear mongering as well. As an engineer (his pre-politics career), he really should know better, but apparently doesn’t. Fortunately, he’s term-limited and will be gone from the Senate in less than seven months. Unfortunately, he’s running for governor.

I will note that antivaxers have been fairly clever in invoking “informed consent” and “information.” However, in reality, this is yet another version of what I prefer to refer to as “misinformed consent,” in which the facts are presented in an intentionally distorted fashion designed to persuade parents to reject vaccines. Often, misinformed consent involves using pseudoscience and misinformation exaggerating the risks of vaccines and minimizing their benefits such that any reasonable person, if she heard nothing more and knew nothing more than what she was told, would conclude that the risk-benefit ratio of vaccines is too unfavorable to say yes. In this case, it involves portraying vaccines as hopelessly tainted with abortion, even though the Catholic Church and every other major religion has said that vaccination is a greater good and the history of the two cell lines used in some vaccines doesn’t change that.

Basically, the purpose of SB 1055 is nothing more than to frighten parents into not vaccinating. Patrick Colbeck is my senator, and he doesn’t have to run for reelection to his seat any more. My contacting him would therefore do no good. (Also, he detests me for calling him out in the past on his embrace of pseudoscience and for pointing out how our favorite AP Biology teacher from the high school we both attended would be ashamed of him.) However, if you live in Michigan, contact your state senator. Urge him or her to oppose this unnecessary and deceptive bill masquerading as “informed consent.”

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

43 replies on “Michigan Senate Bill 1055: Antivaccine fear mongering masquerading as “informed consent” about “fetal parts” in vaccines”

Maybe I’m being pessimistic here but sadly I think whichever way this proposed bill goes the hardline anti-vaxxers will spin it into a “win” for them.

If it passes – “it’s official!!1! the US government has said that it’s TRUE that vaccines are full of ground up dead babies!!1!”

If it doesn’t – “those brave maverick senators tried to stand up for the TROOF and protect your precious babies from hateful vaccines but they were shutdown. Everyone who voted against it did so because of Big Pharma bribes/blackmail/illuminati! This PROVES they don’t care about you, your babies or their precious bodily fluids!! Vote Sen. Fearless for governor/president/king!”


Well, I console myself that Michigan Right to Life is very, very unhappy with me. Just check out their Twitter feed. ?

Is Colbeck up for re-election this November, and would it be helpful to have campaign materials (T-shirts, bumper stickers, anything else?) publicizing his anti-vax stance? If so, what tone should they take? For example serious or sarcastic? Someone I know is in a position to help with this. Input & ideas welcome. Stay tuned.

(And I can’t help but say this: “Homeopathic Dead Baby, 24c.” Wow, that’s powerful!)

Ah, yes, our precious bodily fluids…

“I can no longer sit back and allow communist infiltration, communist indoctrination, communist subversion, and the international communist conspiracy to sap and impurify all of our precious bodily fluids.”

-Brigadier General Jack D. Ripper

Just curious, and don’t know where to go to find an answer…are all these people also against blood transfusions and plasma transfusions?

My guess: nope. Because blood and plasma transfusions can benefit them personally, should they ever need one. But the big bad Fetal Cell Lines are just vague and nebulous enough to attack with impunity.

Blood and plasma transfusions come from living people, and donation does not kill the donor.

Antivaxxers are not as a group against tissue donation, as a general rule. That’s more of a Jehovah Witness thing (though other groups oppose it for themselves, as well but not for others).

Anti-vaxxers aren’t necessarily pro-life. They’ve just hitched their crazy train to the pro life wagon in a colossally intellectually dishonest move to gain support for their nuttery.

Good grief. Not even the freaking Catholic Church with its hard-on against all things related to abortion has a serious problem with the use of these vaccines. From a letter from the Pontifical Academy for Life in 2005, which has received the blessing from then Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (the future Pope Benedict XVI):

As regards the diseases against which there are no alternative vaccines which are available and ethically acceptable, it is right to abstain from using these vaccines if it can be done without causing children, and indirectly the population as a whole, to undergo significant risks to their health. However, if the latter are exposed to considerable dangers to their health, vaccines with moral problems pertaining to them may also be used on a temporary basis. The moral reason is that the duty to avoid passive material cooperation is not obligatory if there is grave inconvenience. Moreover, we find, in such a case, a proportional reason, in order to accept the use of these vaccines in the presence of the danger of favouring the spread of the pathological agent, due to the lack of vaccination of children. This is particularly true in the case of vaccination against German measles.

(all emphasis added). From:

well mr orac minister for doom & we go … in my last post to you…i was called a pot head,,,,well big pharmas now have 3 synthetic based cannabis drugs now on the market,,,marinol…syndros….cesamet…. & more awaiting fda approval gunna be plenty more pot heads around soon ….. hey rodger that thank u ..cheers ..happy bob from oz .8

And this is relevant to the article how exactly? Or have you just gotten a new keyboard and were looking to take the , and . keys out for a test drive?

“Or have you just gotten a new keyboard and were looking to take the , and . keys out for a test drive?”

Hope you don’t mind, but I am definitely stealing that line.

I would suggest returning the keyboard and asking for a refund. The period key clearly does not work properly. Neither does the shift key. Autobabble seems OK.


I don’t mind at all.. all are welcome to use and enjoy. I would say except for anti-vaxxer loons of course but since the whole post was cultured in cells from an autistic human being I doubt they’d use it anyway – just in case they catch teh autsims (or get accused of falling under the influence of Big Snark or something)

All of these are used for nausea and appetite loss after better drugs have failed to work.

… in my last post to you…i was called a pot head,,,,

What, somebody forgot “incoherently jabbering fuckwit”?

in my last post to you…i was called a pot head

That is indeed right 🙂 see also that bit below where you are an incoherently jabbering f­µckwit which does apply. That is because you forgot an important lesson in life: better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to remove all doubts. Also, see the policeman version which is: you have the right to remain silent, everything that you say can and will be used against you 😀

Remember, speech is silver but silence is gold.



A. When is the election for governor?

B. The language here is so clearly designed for emotional manipulation. I guess “using viruses grown on cell lines that are far descended from..,” isn’t as provocative.

C. It will likely be an achievement for the antivaccine movement if they get more attention to this and make it a controversy.

D. Note that the allegedly pro life senators, if they succeed in the effort to scare people from, say, MMR and bring back rubella, would be directly harming and killing many unborn. How do they feel about that?

ha ha its like fishing on here throw the line out & reel them in ….all oh so serious ….. thank u …cheers happy bob from oz ..8

If you are unable write in English, there are lots of other languages available.

I put this into Google Translate and got these:

French: ha ha c’est comme pêcher ici jeter la ligne et les reel dans … tout oh si sérieux … .. merci u … acclamations joyeux bob d’oz ..8

Arabic:ها ها ها لها مثل الصيد هنا رمي الخط خارج وبكرة لهم في … كل أوه خطيرة جدا … شكرا ج … هتاف سعيد بوب من أوقية ..8

It still isn’t comprehensible but it looks much prettier. I like how it kept all the loony markers (“…”).

What I find completely weird in the larger sense, is how 21st century people can believe that some minute part of a cell might be part of a laboratory process, (of which they understand nothing) is the very same thing as murdering an already born baby. It is also weird how much sway the patently ridiculous Catholic church has over so many people. And, of course, the evangelicals are equally in on all this.

But as I mentioned earlier, not even the Catholic Church has a big problem with the use of these kinds of vaccines. They Church still doesn’t like the idea of using these vaccines based on cell lines derived from aborted fetuses, but unless there is a viable alternative available they consider using such vaccines as morally acceptable, since the alternative will be even more suffering and death due to the spread of otherwise preventable disease. So, no, the Pope is not going to excommunicate you for using these vaccines.

AoA highlights DeLong’s (!!!!) new study wherein HPV vaccines led to lowered fertility in 20-something women.

Fear about women’s sexual activity I suppose as well.

Yeah. Someone already sent it to me. I already see at least one massive flaw sufficient to invalidate its conclusions, and I’ve only just skimmed the study.

Given that overpopulation and overconsumption are the twin root causes of climate change, reduction in fertility would be a feature, not a bug. But alas, if it seems too good to be true, it’s probably alt-med.

What we also really need is a good male pill, preferably one that also makes sex “even better” so guys will have a natural incentive to take it.


blockquote>What we also really need is a good male pill
We had one. It came from a plant that is a relative of fennel.
The Romans fucked it into extinction.

There was one, but the patients in the clinical trial complained about the side effects so it was canned. Never mind that the side effects were way less than what most women experience with hormonal contraceptives. I guess because the men carry no medical risk to themselves if contraception fails.

I recently finished read The Vaccine Race: Science, Politics, and the Human Costs of Defeating Disease by Meredith Wadman. Much if it does involve Hayflick and his creation of the WI-38 cell line (also him taking them with him when he moved from Pennsylvania to California, and subsequent issues with the NIH).

There was a reason to not use non-human cells to grow vaccines, since some like the rubella vaccine created by Hillemann had too many serious side effects.

The author also highlights that some folk just made up stuff about Hayflick’s work and ran with it. He sued one person, but the insanity written by that guy still pops up. Give it a read.

Well… I’d carry out the following test: explaining truthfully to various lay people that we’re using these fetal cell lines to manufacture these vaccines.

I expect reactions to fall into the three following categories:

Disbelief and suspicion that I’m antivaccination and a fear-mingorer.
The “yeah, so what!” reaction.
The queasy “vaccines are tainted!” reaction.

I’d be curious to see the resulting breakdown into each of these categories.

While there is no point in giving in to antivaccination rhetoric, we should also face the fact that medicine as a whole cannot expect lay people to react any differently than they would do naturally. It’s the medical world’s responsibility to manage and get along with the public’s reactions. And we should be clearheaded about this.

The dilemma is the following: we should both oppose antivaccination rhetoric and simultaneously avoid being at loggerheads with public opinion. Specifically if they react intuitively and negatively to the truth.

Otherwise it ends up feeding the conspiracy narrative. Which is bad.

Which is worse, rhetorically? A world where medical care is suboptimal but with trust in medicine? Or a world with optimal medical care with too widespread distrust in medicine?

There are many situations where I’d be willing to trade one for the other, if only I’d knew it to be possible (which I don’t). Vaccination isn’t one of them. But if we could do away with fetal cell lines for instance, I’d be happy to shut down one among many avenue that leads mentally from natural and irrational disgust/fear and that ends up in the land of quackery.

@ F68.10:

I feel your pain
sometimes you can’t avoid being ‘at loggerheads with public opinion’ ( at least with some of the public’s opinion)

SBM can’t tailor its message – which should be based in reality- in order to please certain factions who can’t accept reality.

Because I follow people who write at anti-vax sites like AoA, TMR, the Bolen Report or AutismInvestigated, I KNOW that there are partisans whom we cannot affect with reason and data. There is probably nothing we can say that will make people like these even listen to us.

They use conspiracy theories as scaffolding to support their ‘research’ and beliefs:

if your resident genius’ studies PROVE that vaccines cause autism ( or ADHD, allergies or suchlike) you NEED to have a conspiracy handily hanging around in order to explain just WHY this brilliant research is not standard medicine. The studies can’t stand on their own ( and thus be accepted by SBM worldwide ) so you need a fallback:
someone doesn’t like us and is paying BIG MONEY to silence us.

If you look carefully, ALL woo-meisters use this scenario to some extent.

Occasionally, SBM changes drastically: someone discovers/ learns that say, bacteria causes ulcers or certain tests predict outcomes REALLY WELL or that certain procedures don’t help much
Supporters of alt med want us to believe that THEIR ideas and pet theories are amongst those rare instances when the whole scientific world is turned upside down. They are Galileo.

The problem is, radical overturnings don’t exactly happen every two weeks as these people would expect. Autism parents don’t suddenly discover brain structures or biochemical pathways that no one has ever suspected exist. Supplement sellers don’t find cures for MS, Aids, AD or cancer through dietary perfection. It ain’t gonna happen.

But some people believe it can because their beliefs derive from an emotional need such as supporting their self-image or what they can’t accept ( e.g. that THEIR child has ASD). Or entrereneurs’ beliefs are purely mercenary to get the aforementioned to buy products tailor made for their niche.

@ F68.10: ( I lost a long reply to you- so more briefly- if it doesn’t appear)

Sometimes we can’t avoid being ‘at loggerheads’ with people who have unrealistic beliefs. Those who write at anti-vax sites which I follow are emotionally invested in believing something which either reinforces their self image or explains away a fact they dislike ( e.g. that their child has an ASD).
A great amount of alt med relies upon a support scaffolding of conspiracy to explicate just why their chosen genius’ work is not accepted by SBM, becoming standard canon
* Someone doesn’t like the researcher so powers-that-be dismiss his/ her work to protect profits*

Each time, they compare their guru to actual revolutionaries whose research over turned scientific consensus. As if this happens on a weekly basis. What’s more likely: a transformation that shakes the very foundations of SBM or the possibility that someone fixed research/ had shoddy methods?

They rely upon a misinformed audience to spread their woo far and wide.

WE can’t affect the most entrenched but members of their audience might be reachable.

I should perhaps state that I do not believe public opinion and woo meister to be the same entity. Somehow I feel SBM partisans tend to conflate the two.

I know full well that we cannot convince “them”. If they cannot lampoon vaccines on the basis of fetal cell lines being involved, I have no doubt that they will fall back onto lampooning usage of animal/monkey cell lines.

The truth is, no matter how vocal woo-meister may be, it’s going to be a harder sell to lampoon monkey cell lines than to lampoon human cell lines. Simply because the public opinion is going to be more receptive to the human cell lines irrational fear. It’s more atavic.

My point simply is that trust in medicine is a public good akin to the way public health also is. And that striking a balance may be worth “caving in” to irrational fears. As long as the price to pay in public health in not too heavy.

This in no way entails giving up on SBM. It simply means pragmatically and scientifically assessing how to manage trust in medicine as a fully recognised public good. I’d indeed settle for less public health if that could corner woomeisters into full ridicule.

Amyway. I do not believe that we currently are in a situation where such a compromise could prove fruitful. Woomeisters are already too entrenched for that.

But there nonetheless is a cognitive market where both rational and irrational ideas compete for public attention. The Internet radically transformed this cognitive market. And we should perhaps rely on a bit more than wishful calls to science to tame it.

It’s all about emotional narratives. Humans use narrative to organize ideas and memory. For the vast majority of humans, emotion determines behavior, reason follows with an explanation. The actor who portrayed Stephen Hawking in that biographical film didn’t win an Academy Award for teaching physics to laypeople: he won the award for portraying the emotional reality of Stephen Hawking’s life in a manner that was convincing and emotionally compelling to audiences.


What antivaxers offer are emotional narratives that are emotionally compelling. We can reason with the public until the cows come home, but these are effectively two different languages. Like someone in China who speaks to a crowd in Cantonese and is followed by someone speaking Mandarin: some in the crowd will understand the former, some will understand the latter, and the fact that the written language is the same both ways doesn’t change that.

WE need to offer emotional narratives that are emotionally compelling. Stories of parents and children, disease and prevention and treatment and healing. Stories that make people laugh, make people cry, make them angry, make them hopeful, etc. Stories that expose the antivax nuts to shame, because shame works at changing behavior. Stories that inspire people who are already on-side with us to spread these stories and get more active.

That’s fighting fire with fire, rather than fighting fire with forks. You’re wondering why I said “forks” because forks have nothing to do with fire. Exactly.

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