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


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14 thoughts on “Throwing Cold Water on the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge”

  1. Pingback: Beware the Red Kettle - The Salvation Army and Abortion

  2. My father died of ALS in 2001. I wrote this article before I realized my own church had taken a stance against the entire media blitz that was raising a substantial amount of money, not just for research, but for equipment, respite care, medicine, as well as research.

    I’m not a light weight Catholic. I have stood up to protect my faith and my rights to profess that faith.

    Rejecting the entire ALS foundation because of this research is not realistic or prudent as we try to invite Catholics back into our faith.

    I have to say these type of very public opposition to one cause trying to raise money, not just for research but for equipment, medication, etc, troubles me deeply as Catholic. The church, in my recollection, has never made such a strong stand against Breast Cancer’s, Pink Ribbon campaign, cancer , or diabetes fundraising campaigns so why step up against one disease? I don’t get it. But then again, it is very personal to me and my family.

    Unfortunately, such specific oppositions alienate the very people we are trying to return to our church. In my opinion, a simple statement asking Catholics to request donations be sent in with a designation other than stem cell related research would have been a better approach.

    I am a pro life person. I believe deeply in the sanctity of life.

    I don’t always agree with all of the church’s teaching, and I guess I’m far from the best sheep in the flock, but my faith in Christ’s teachings never waiver. I struggle like the rest of us.

    1. Birgit Atherton Jones

      Tootsie1, first, I’d like to offer my sincere condolences for the death of your father. ALS is a horrible disease that affects many, in one way or another. We lost a close personal friend to ALS – a father who left behind 5 children.

      I can also appreciate your reluctance to dismiss the ALS Association. In the same way, our personal history of BRCA1 breast cancer (5 generations and counting) makes the ‘pinking’ of the country difficult for my family. Although cancer victims are unwilling members of a ‘club’ and we share a certain camaraderie, many of us are conscientious objectors when it comes to SG Komen and the American Cancer Society. The reason for this is the same as the objection to the ALS Association – acceptance and employment of embryonic stem cell research. I’ve spent years writing similar posts about these organizations. There may be much more opposition of other groups using this research than you are aware, since we tend to hone in on those issues that are most relevant in our own lives.

      I’m often saddened when good people check Church teaching at the door when something hits close to home. It’s a difficult task to take the moral high road when we are so personally affected. Yet it can be done. My friend, with a quadriplegic son, never gave to the spinal cord organizations using immoral practices. My parents put their faith into practice when they accepted my son, conceived by rape, as their own. Our daughter kept her pregnancy, when she was diagnosed with breast cancer at the tender age of 28 and 20 weeks pregnant. The common theme has been that no one should have to die, so that we can live.

      Finally, I’d like to reiterate that the ALS Association is far from the only organization to which ALS (or cancer) research supporters can donate. As I mentioned in this piece, there are moral alternatives. Another option, which I’ve often shared with those inclined to want to do something about cancer (or ALS), is to donate directly to an individual who is suffering from the disease. You could do this as well. God bless!

    2. I will tell you that I do not “check” my church teachings at the door. It’s OK to question. I would not have had the right to vote today if someone didn’t question.

      What if Christ had not questioned the Rabbis in the temple. How about Mother Teresa, did she not question authority? Saint Francis of Assisi?

      I never said that I “checked my faith” at the door. I simply said it was unfair of the church to single out one organization. I also said that the ALS Association, Breast Cancer foundation, etc. do other things besides research on embryonic stem research. Your response is judgmental.

      Let me ask you this. How do I respond to my friend who’s son was raped by a Catholic youth worker when I tell her I still give money to the church? Should I “check” my faith then?

      I too, could tell similar stories, of family and friends sacrificing for the sanctity of life which would include myself choosing to hold on to my son and deliver him dead at 20 weeks rather that aborting him as suggested by one doctor. Please don’t judge my faith.

      Your response that it is difficult to take the “moral high road” is insulting. Perhaps, we as Catholics, should take the high road and find the good in what organizations do and support those Christ like efforts while asking Catholics to specify donations.

    3. Birgit Atherton Jones

      I’m so sorry that you saw judgment and insult in my response. That was certainly not my intention. I was speaking in more generalized terms and not ‘at’ you in particular. I, myself, have found it difficult to see clearly when an issue is very close to my life’s experiences. I will, however, stand by my position that we should prefer organizations that follow Church teaching rather than those that don’t. Giving to an individual is also a good option. I’m still not sure why someone, presented with those choices, wouldn’t chose the morally sound one.

    4. Birgit Atherton Jones

      I don’t find it helpful to compare the vile actions of an individual youth worker in a Catholic parish to secular organizations. After all, when it comes to secular organizations, we have choices as to which one(s) we support. Therefore, when an organization condones sinful methods it tarnishes their appeal and we’re free to choose a morally sound alternative.

      Far from being like such an organization, the Church is the one holy Catholic apostolic Church – there are no substitutes. As the Church founded by Christ Himself, her members have the free will to give in to sinful human nature, but in her intent and origin she is without peer. After all, accosting a young lady is certainly not condoned by the Church – but is rather an aberration, going completely against Church teaching. I could, however, completely understand withholding donations to a specific parish that allowed this to happen, if they didn’t support the victim and admonish the perpetrator.

  3. In addition to the concern about the embryonic stem cells, I have great concern over how well the ALS foundation will manage the funds being donated. This is a charity that supposedly had 1.5 million in donations last year, and I read someone not long ago, this has already raised 75 million this year. How well is this foundation going to be able to manage this “lottery” windfall in a prudent way? My guess is about this time next year, there will be reports coming out of mismanaged funds. I certainly hope not, but it won’t surprise me if it happens.

  4. “The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has called the Cincinnati protest a “local matter.” Boston Herald. August 21, 2014

    I guess that the big guys aren’t so supportive of the Cincinati or New Orleans bishops…its simply a local matter, what more needs to be said.

    1. Birgit Atherton Jones

      Making it a local matter simply means that clarifying Church teaching is being left to each individual bishop or Archbishop. The Church, however, has spoken firmly about the repugnance of embryonic stem cell research – calling it an intrinsic evil. As individual Catholics we should know this and adhere to her teachings.

  5. Phil – I’m not familiar with that particular landmark in embryonic stem cell research. I will look it up in the journals to see what terms they’re using and if what they say is really effective or even usually put into practice in laboratories doing embryonic stem cell culture. I have a background in molecular biology (that’s what my degree is in), research experience with chicken embryonic stem cells, microbiology, veterinary clinics, and forensic biology. In my experience, the stem cells are kept alive ‘in perpetuity’, but not as embryos, but as undifferentiated cells in culture. Unless the embryos are frozen, they will begin to differentiate. When the undifferentiated cells are chemically separated and stored in a solution that continues to keep the cells separated, they are fairly stable if frozen. I’ll look into the research you mentioned.

    However, the intrinsic evil of embryonic stem cell research is not merely the destruction of the embryos. The intrinsic evil of the research lies in the purposeful creation of human beings in a laboratory and the intention to never allow that human being to develop into a full-grown human. The Catholic Church teaches that even IVF and other assisted reproductive technologies are immoral because they take the unitive act of procreation out of God’s hands and the proper physical place (man and woman joined in marital relations). The removal of the unitive act of procreation and the fact that it takes place in a sterile environment thoroughly divorces God’s will from the equation. The Church, through John Paul II’s Theology of the Body and other sources, believes that in the marital union the man and woman cooperate with God in the way He designed them to in order to create new life. This is also part of the basis of the Church’s objection to contraception – even barriers or withdrawl – that God’s will is thwarted and overwhelmed by the contracepting couple’s will. Assisted Reproductive technologies do that even more thoroughly. Creating embryos in the lab to use for experimentation removes even the possibility of the good that can come from IVF because the embryos are never meant for implantation in a woman’s body.

  6. Researchers at Advanced Cell Technology, led by Robert Lanza, reported the successful derivation of a stem cell line in which a single blastomere is extracted from a blastocyst. At the 2007 meeting of the International Society for Stem Cell Research (ISSCR), Lanza announced that his team had succeeded in producing three new stem cell lines without destroying the parent embryos. “These are the first human embryonic cell lines in existence that didn’t result from the destruction of an embryo.”

    I assume based upon your derivation of objectively evil when an embryo is destroyed that embryonic stem cell research where the parent embryo is not destroyed would be permissible morally?

    1. Sorry, I answered you above instead of down here. I’m adding this response because I looked up the company you mentioned and the claims they made. It looks like they had some improved success – 20% success for these less destructive methods verses 2% for normal destructive methods. However, I’ve been unable to tell whether other firms or even ACT actually use the less destructive method on a frequent basis. Many of the other links I came across when I googled “creating embryonic stem cells without destroying embryos” referred to adult stem cells and ways of back-tracking them to the holy grail of ‘pluripotency’ or ‘totipotency’. The latter articles were dated after the 2008 article by ACT. The most recent was 2014. So while it is slightly less objectionable to obtain embryonic stem cells without destroying the embryos, it is far from a totally successful endeavor. Additionally, the fact that such great strides have been made with adult stem cells that embryonic stem cells have yet to match makes continued funding of embryonic stem cells seem like a more risky bet than continuing to work with adult stem cells that have been proven to be readily obtainable, non controversial, and successful.

  7. Birgit gives us her latest well thought out words on the trendy but not so moral decision of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. Embryos are the key to a moral decision. I support research within the scope of morality. “In a time of deceit…telling the TRUTH is a Revolutionary Act”. George Orwell

  8. Pingback: An Army and the Geopolitics of Pope Francis -

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