For those of you who have checked out social media on the internet lately, it seems like you can't get through a single day this week without hearing about someone else taking the “ALS Ice Bucket Challenge”. This is the latest trendy fad to go viral, albeit something being done for a good cause. The Ice Bucket Challenge” is where people tag their friends to dump a bucket of ice water on their heads within 24 hours and post a video of it, or donate $100 to the Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis Association (ALSA), which is dedicated towards fighting Lou Gehrig's disease.
On paper, this is a very innovative way to raise money for an important charity, and it has succeeded widely so far – raising over $40 million dollars for ALS thisweek, compared to the normal $2 million or so they take in this time of year. But is it really for a good cause? Yes and no.
One problem many people are having with the “Ice Bucket Challenge” is what the ALS does with the money they receive. It's particularly troubling to many practicing Catholics, since the ALSA funds Embryonic Stem Cell research. In other words, your money could be going towards experiments on human embryos – including creating them in a lab and/or destroying them, all in the name of “research”. Even the most ardent outspoken advocates of embryonic stem cell research – like Michael J. Fox – have now conceded that embryonic stem cell research has lead to a dead end and is unlikely to “cure” anything. To their credit, the ASLA concedes that Adult stem cell research is far more valuable in providing medical breakthroughs, and they state that only “one” of the individuals they donate to is involves in embryonic stem cell research. Never-the-less, the ASLS believes that “embryonic stem cell research... will provide valuable insights” and that position goes directly against Catholic teaching.
A Roman Catholic diocese in Ohio has gone as far as publicly asking its 113 schools not to participate in the ASL Ice Bucket challenge. This, of course, does not mean that we should not support efforts to fight Lou Gehrig's disease. If the purpose of the ALS Ice Bucket challenge is to “raise awareness” of Lou Gehrig's disease, they've already been extremely successful because its all over the internet now. The ALSA now has considerable donations to spend as they see fit. Rather than give them even more money, many are suggesting that you'd be better off finding an actual person with ALS and give them a charitable donation directly. Another noteworthy is effort is to donate to other, lesser known charities that are working to stop terrible diseases like Lou Gehrig's, but do so through ethical medical research that does not involve using human embryos. There are many such organizations that only use adult stem cells, but they get far less media attention. Fr. Michael F. Duffy wrote a series of blog posts this week saying that Catholics should give their money to The John Paul II Medical Research Institute (JP2MRI) if they really want to post a “viral” video about doing an “Ice Bucket Challenge”. Unlike the ALSA, JP2MRI’s emphasis is on pro-life ethical standards and they never use embryo or fetal tissue. Another major difference is that a majority of dollars donated to JP2MRI are directly used by it to further scientific research and not simply expended for administrative fees or non research activities. A third difference is that the JP2MRI focuses not just on research that will help people in the future, but on valuable hospital and clinical funding that will help patients suffering now.
In short, it seems pretty clear to me: Should we spend more money to do something about Lou Gehrig's disease? Yes. Should we do an “Ice Bucket Challenge” and send money to the ALSA? No.