fbpx
Articles

Explainer: The ALS ice bucket challenge

/
August 22, 2014

What is the “Ice Bucket Challenge”?

The Ice Bucket Challenge is a campaign started by the ALS Association to raise awareness and donations for ALS. The challenge involves people getting doused with buckets of ice water on video, posting that video to social media, then nominating others to do the same, all in an effort to raise ALS awareness. According to the ALS Association, people can either accept the challenge or make a donation to an ALS charity of their choice, or do both.

What is ALS?

ALS is the initialism for Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, sometimes called Lou Gehrig's disease or classical motor neuron disease. ALS is a neurological disease that attacks the nerve cells responsible for controlling voluntary muscles. Unable to function, the muscles gradually weaken, waste away, and twitch. The disease become progressively worse the ability of the brain to start and control voluntary movement is lost, eventually resulting in death. The cause of ALS is not known, and scientists do not yet know why ALS strikes some people and not others. About 30,000 Americans now have ALS.

Why do some people have ethical concerns with the challenge?

There have been some concerns registered on social media about the charity sponsoring the challenge, the ALS Association, and whether donors are contributing to an organization that supports embryonic stem cell research. Based on reporting from the American Life League, a spokeswoman from ALSA wrote the following:

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.

To be fair, according to Munk, it seems ALSA supports the philosophy of embryonic stem cell research, but that known funding is exclusively done through the direction of one donor, and that potential donors have the opportunity to withhold funds that would be used for such purposes. By its own admission, however, it appears that ALSA reserves the right to further embryonic stem cell research at its own discretion.

What is Embryonic Stem Cell Research?

Embryonic stem cell research is speculative medical research (it has never resulted in clinical treatments) that is predicated on the destruction of embryonic human life. The process uses stem cells harvested from embryos conceived through vitro fertilization (IVF) that have been donated for research purposes rather than being implanted into a woman’s uterus. The embryos are killed during the process of harvesting their cells and then are discarded afterwards. In 1999, the Southern Baptist Convention issued a resolution expressing opposition to the destruction of innocent human life, including the destruction of human embryos for research purposes.

Should Christians not participate in the challenge?

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.

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.​.