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The Ice Bucket Challenge: Be Careful What You’re Funding

ice bucket challengeUnless you’ve been in a coma you’re probably seen dozens and dozens of videos of people doing the ice bucket challenge in recent weeks.  For the uninformed, here’s how it works.  Within 24 hours of being challenged, people are supposed to video themselves dumping ice water over their heads or having someone else dump ice water over their heads.  The video is supposed to include the person saying they accept the challenge followed by the pouring of the ice water over their heads.  The person then gets to challenge other people to do the same.  Those taking the challenge are supposed to donate ten dollars to ALS research or decline the challenge and donate one hundred dollars.

The ALS Association is the charity most associated with the ice bucket challenge and is the principal charity benefitting from it, having received over $100 million in donations since the challenge began.  But what is it they’re funding?  Christians taking the challenge and donating to the ALS Association are discovering they may be unwittingly funding embryonic stem cell research.  Carrie Munk, spokeswoman for ALSA, acknowledged this.  She wrote, “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.”

The ALSA may allow donors to stipulate funds not be used be invested in embryonic stem cell research, but it is clear that the ALSA supports the philosophy of embryonic stem cell research. 

The ALS Association also funds the Northeast ALS Consortium (NEALS) with $500,000 per year for the last six years.  NEALS is the largest consortium of ALS clinical researchers in the world.  One of the studies currently being conducted by NEALS utilizes the spinal cord neural stem cells taken from elective abortions.

The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission cautioned Christians considering donating to the ALS Association.

SBC ERLC – With the close proximity to a moral dilemma that this situation presents, it is reasonable that Christians would register hesitation and distrust towards collaborating with an organization that harbors no moral opposition to the destruction of unborn life, but instead endorses such activity. Christians should also consider whether their contributions are unwittingly undergirding a philosophical worldview at odds with Christian ethics. The taking of innocent life under any circumstance is sinful. Moreover, fostering a culture of life predicated on the destruction of life is contradictory.

People wishing to donate to an ALS Charity that use only adult stem cells and no embryonic stem cells do have options.

There are pathways to participation that don’t require moral compromise and that can allow those interested to join in the campaign without violating their conscience. The ALS Association encourages people taking part in the challenge to “make a donation to an ALS charity of their choice.” Listed below are a few organizations recommended by Christian bioethicist David Prentice that use adult stem cells in ALS research:

The Midwest Stem Cell Therapy Center (MSCTC) at the University of Kansas Medical Center is starting an increasing number of clinical trials and educational efforts.

To donate: Click the “Make a Gift” link in the left column of their web page, it specifies donation for the MSCTC.

At the Mayo Clinic, Dr. Anthony Windebank and his team have one ongoing clinical trial for ALS patients and are ready to initiate a second clinical trial for ALS patients.

To donate: There is a “Give Now” link near the top of web page from Dr. Windebank’s link above; people can specify that their donation go to his ALS research team.

The Adult Stem Cell Technology Center, LLC is a for-profit company developing new methods for growth and application of adult stem cells, and does not support embryonic stem cell research.

To donate:  Click “Contact Information” in the right column of the web page and email the Director to learn more about the company’s adult stem cell technology development plans.​

Another aspect to consider about the ice bucket challenge is the difference between spontaneous charity and thoughtful charity.  Jayme Metzgar with The Federalist explains it in detail.  Here is a snippet: 

So there is a place for spontaneity. But if you really want your giving and activism to make a long-term impact on people and communities (and I hope you do), I have a few suggestions.

  1. Realize you can’t do it all.
  2. Choose causes you understand and believe in.
  3. Find an organization that is working effectively and using money well.
  4. Make a noticeable donation.
  5. If possible, support people you know personally.
  6. Make sure you’re doing something in your local community.

True charity comes from the heart and is never a product of peer pressure or a public challenge.  Also, Christians who don’t donate to the ALSA for moral reasons should not forget that the source for that morality, the Bible, obligates them to be charitable with individuals and organizations that are not morally objectionable. 

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