Throwing Cold Water on the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

Trendy — it’s all the rage in today’s works of charity. Never mind that the theological virtue of Charity should be a staple in the lives of any Catholic worth his salt (or leaven). That’s a topic for another day.

Our hyperactive culture has found more and more ways to call our fleeting attention to those in need. Whether it’s the Color Run for the charity of your choice or SG Komen’s “pinking” of the world in awareness of breast cancer — creatively capturing our charitable dollars has become a passionate task.

The latest effort in this pursuit is the virally popular ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, which benefits the ALS Association (ALSA). Also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord.

As worthy as the cause may be, doing the right thing can be a challenging proposition for the Faithful. Our flawed world presents pitfalls, even when we seek to support the needy or lend a hand to those who are ill. It behooves us to know the moral fiber of any organization to which we donate.

ALS Association and Embryonic Stem Cell Research

Unfortunately, many of today’s causes simply don’t reflect the moral principles held by the Church. According to their website, the ALS Association gives a nod to embryonic stem cell research. Although they focus most of their research on the morally acceptable adult stem cell research counterpart, they leave room for the use of cell lines derived directly from aborted babies of years past.

Adult stem cell research is important and should be done alongside embryonic stem cell research as both will provide valuable insights. Only through exploration of all types of stem cell research will scientists find the most efficient and effective ways to treat diseases. (ALS Association)

In a response to a recent inquiry by the American Life League (ALL), the ALS Association added,

The ALS Association primarily funds adult stem cell research.  Currently, The Association is funding one study using embryonic stem cells (ESC), and the stem cell line was established many years ago under ethical guidelines set by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS); this research is funded by one specific donor, who is committed to this area of research.  In fact, donors may stipulate that their funds not be invested in this study or any stem cell project. Under very strict guidelines, The Association may fund embryonic stem cell research in the future.

Despite this attempt to soft pedal by placing blame on one donor, the fact that their door is open to future embryonic stem cell research is enough to invalidate ALSA as a morally viable recipient. As far as the “ethical guidelines” mentioned, this is simply a sleight of hand. Creation of an embryo, with the purpose of experimentation, falls under the heading of an intrinsic evil — actions that fundamentally conflict with the moral law and can never be performed under any circumstances. There can be no justification for such research.

Another flaw in the ALSA response to ALL is the claim that the use of donated funds can be directed toward the aspect of research of the donor’s choice. This type of conjecture disregards the fungibility of funds given to an organization. Whether we designate our dollars for this research or that research, any monies donated to the ALSA frees up funds for other, objectionable activities. Thus supporting this group facilitates morally repugnant research.

Other Ways to Do the Challenge

Instead we must look to ethical alternatives such as the adult stem cell research being done by the JPII Medical Research Institute, whose website prominently proclaims,

We do NOT support embryonic stem cell research. We support research that is pro-life driven.


The John Paul II Medical Research Institute advocates for medical research that recognizes the dignity of human life from the moment of conception to natural death.

Another way to participate in ALS awareness was shared by Deacon Tom Lang who commented that his “family has been challenged by other family members to do the ‘Ice Bucket Challenge to Support ALS.’ I learned just two days ago of the ALS Association’s embryonic stem cell research, which I of course am 100% against. I’m planning on doing the challenge today with my family, but I will state on my video that, “Although we are supporting awareness of ALS in honor and memory of my brother, we cannot support the ALS Association until it stops all immoral embryonic stem cell research.”

A Non-Negotiable Issue

Knowing that embryonic stem cell research — in addition to cloning, abortion, euthanasia, and same sex “marriage” — is an issue that is non-negotiable, negates the ALS Association from becoming potential recipients of our charitable efforts. Unfortunately well-meaning Catholics are being caught up in the enthusiasm for these lively events, such as the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, as illustrated by the participation of Ursuline Academy. Yet, ignorance of the law is no excuse, both in our secular and spiritual lives. We have, at our fingertips, the ability to readily research and discern.

Faith obliges us to, first, make efforts to find out what God has revealed, second, believe firmly what God has revealed, and third, openly profess our faith whenever necessary. (Baltimore Catechism: 201)

As Pope Francis calls us to evangelize in the streets, let’s take care to fully arm ourselves with virtuous knowledge and then freely share it with those around us. True Charity is the primary theological virtue, but we are bound by conscience and love of God, to make moral choices.

© Copyright 2014. Birgit Jones. All Rights Reserved