ALS Ice Bucket Challenge and Embryonic Stem Cells

Doing the Challenge

News anchors, movie celebrities, professional sports teams, teachers, kids.  We've probably all seen by now the viral videos of individuals taking the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.   Concerns about the research supported by the ALS Association have left some Catholics concerned. Here is a quick overview.

What is the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge?
The challenge involves recording yourself accepting the challenge, dumping a bucket of ice water on your head, and challenging others by name to do it as well.  Typically, those who accept the challenge donate $10 to the ALS Association; those who decline donate $100.   According to the ALS Association, from July 29 to Aug 20, it has received $31.5 million in donations (compared to $1.9 million during the same time period last year). 

What's the Problem with Donating to ALS Association?
Certainly, individuals suffering with ALS as well as their family and friends deserve our support and prayers for healing. We encourage all to continue supporting everyone who is suffering or in spiritual, physical, or financial need. The Church supports all morally licit efforts towards a better understanding of and treatment for ALS.

There is concern, however, that the money being donated to the ALS Association may be used for embryonic stem cell research.  In a July 2, 2014 email from ALS Association to the American Life League, ALS stated that while it primarily funds studies utilizing adult stem cells, it is funding one study using embryonic stem cells and that it may fund embryonic stem cell research in the future. 

Embryonic stem cell research is always morally objectionable because a human person must be destroyed to harvest his or her stem cells.  As the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith stated: "The use of embryonic stem cells or differentiated cells derived from them - even when these are provided by other researchers through destruction of embryos or when such cells are commercially available - presents serious problems from the standpoint of cooperation in evil and scandal."  (Dignitas personae, no. 32).

Alternatives for Catholics
There is nothing immoral about raising awareness for diseases and ethical research towards curing diseases; there is no reason Catholics can't participate. The key, however, is to ensure that donations from participation are being utilized to support morally licit research.

As an alternative to the ALS Association, Catholics may wish to donate to the John Paul II Medical Research Institute. The Institute is a secular, non-profit organization and chooses to engage in medical research that honors and respects the dignity of every human life, from conception to natural death. More information on the John Paul II Institute is available here.

Donations can be by clicking here or checks can be sent to:

John Paul II Medical Research Institute
540 E. Jefferson St., Suite 202
Iowa City, IA 52245