TOC Previous Next A+A-Print


Question 86: May a person work for an organization that funds research using fetal tissue?

For many years I have been working as an administrative assistant for the local chapter of a national organization whose purpose is to educate the public about a certain disease, help those afflicted with it, and support research directed toward improved treatment and some way of preventing or curing the disease. Much of my work consists in answering the telephone, and very often this involves talking with people whose family members are seriously ill, trying to console them, and referring them to support groups and individuals who can help them. To improve my work, I took a college evening course in counseling at my own expense, and I also have read several books and articles on the disease as well as all the educational materials the organization provides.

Within the last year, the national organization started funding research involving the use of human fetal tissue obtained from induced abortions. I am firmly convinced we should not be funding this research, because using the tissue is wrong and because funding such research is likely to cost the organization the support of prolife donors. I have made my views known to my superiors here and to the national president. It did no good, except that my immediate superior told me that, if anyone asked me about this matter, I could frankly say I disapprove of what is being done, and refer any further questions to him.

Should I quit? That would mean giving up my work on the telephone, which I personally find very rewarding and believe does a lot of good. But part of my work (ten to fifteen percent of my time) does help the national organization’s fund raising—for example, mailing acknowledgments of donations we receive locally, sending information to people who contact us about donating, and so on. Most of the funds raised are used for good purposes, but the funding for fetal research will be about two percent of next year’s budget. Also, by referring people who ask questions to my superior, I am helping him handle the problem this funding is causing.


This question concerns material cooperation in raising funds, part of which support research that is involved with abortion. By funding research that uses tissue obtained in abortions, the organization becomes involved in the abortions. Applying the usual criteria, this complicity is wrong, and people should not donate to the organization without some special reason. The questioner, however, mainly engages in morally good work that not only serves others but is self-fulfilling; she or he cooperates only materially in the organization’s fund raising. Applying the usual criteria, I believe this material cooperation probably is morally acceptable. Still, perhaps the questioner should quit and attempt to get the organization to end its support for the morally objectionable research.

The reply could be along the following lines:

In trying to improve your work by taking a course in counseling at your own expense and studying several books on the disease with which your organization is concerned, you manifested your dedication to serving both people afflicted with the disease and their families. While this dedication is morally required of people doing work like yours, not everyone in such a position is conscientious enough to attend to the requirement and make the necessary commitment. Too many, not caring enough for those who need help, are content to do only what they must to earn their pay.

In funding research using fetal tissue, your organization intends the research and becomes associated with abortion (see q. 85, above). Since the good of health is part of the good of life itself, in supporting such research the organization undercuts its witness to its own laudable, general purpose. Moreover, deriving from abortion what most people are likely to suppose is an important benefit, the organization’s research funding makes killing the unborn less repugnant, which, in turn, encourages people to have abortions. Therefore, I believe you are right about the organi~zation’s responsibility. It should not be funding research that involves it in induced abortion. From this it follows that potential donors with no compelling reason to donate to the organization should not do so, but should instead support other worthy organizations whose activities include none that are morally tainted.

If you were engaged directly in the fund raising—for example, by personally urging people to donate—you would share fully in the organization’s objectively wrong effort to encourage potential donors to do what they should not. In that case, I would say you should stop doing that work and, if necessary, quit your job. However, your involvement in the fund raising apparently consists merely in fulfilling a secretary’s normal responsibilities: mailing acknowledgments, sending out requested information, and referring people to a superior when they ask questions about the organization’s research funding. It thus appears that you need only assist indirectly in the organization’s fund raising, which itself is involved only indirectly in abortions. Being further removed from the evil of abortion than the organization itself and having been authorized to inform callers of your position, you can continue to bear plausible personal witness to the truth about abortion, and you do almost nothing toward making it respectable. Moreover, you probably can keep your job without unfairness to babies who might be aborted, because you have good reasons for keeping it, while quitting probably would not save even one baby’s life. Consequently, it seems to me you need not quit your job and probably should keep it.

Suppose, however, you thought you could get the organization to end its wrongful research funding by resigning and campaigning publicly against this part of its program. Then, you might have a duty to take that course, not only for the sake of victims of abortion, but for the sake of the organization. Motivating it to end its wrongdoing would be an act of loyalty, promoting its true good: fidelity to its own purpose and retaining the support of its prolife donors. Even so, of course, you might have a duty to keep your job—for example, if you thought it unlikely that you would find another adequate to meet your genuine needs and/or thought it unlikely that the organization could replace you with someone who would give as much help as you do to people in serious need of it. Again, you might have other responsibilities incompatible with campaigning against the organization’s funding of the objectionable research, so that quitting would be pointless.

In sum, while I can imagine conditions under which you should quit, I do not think what you have told me about your work and its circumstances points to an obligation to do so. Indeed, I am inclined to think you should not, but rather should continue giving dedicated service to people who need your help.

If you were not doing good work or the organization did not value your work, I doubt that your immediate superior would have told you that you may tell anyone who asks about the organization’s funding of the objectionable research that you do not approve of it. So, it seems likely that your position is secure enough for you to continue to urge your local superiors and the national president to reconsider the decision to fund research using tissue from induced abortions. You might, for example, draw up a petition and get as many of your fellow employees as possible to sign it. Still, you may have compelling reasons for not engaging in such activities. Consequently, just as I cannot answer your original question with a simple yes or no, so I cannot say you ought to do more than you have already done to try to get the organization to reconsider.

If you do decide to give up your job, look for another where you can use your gifts, especially your preparation and experience in counseling, in meeting people’s serious need. Indeed, the likelihood of finding such a position should be a consideration in your deliberation about whether to quit your present job.