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FAQ on the Ice Bucket Challenge
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A woman participates in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. (Screenshot)

Staff Report

The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge has taken the nation by storm. Questions about the research supported by the ALS Association, however, have left some Catholics concerned about participating.

Here is a quick overview of the situation. What is ALS, what is this challenge, who is the ALS Association, and where might Catholics consider donating instead?

What is ALS?
Commonly known as Lou Gherig’s Disease after it struck the famous baseball player, Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and spine, and from the spine to the body. According to the ALS Association, the progressive degeneration of the motor neurons in ALS leads to their death, and when motor neurons die, the brain cannot initiate or control movement. The disease is fatal. There is no cure, and there are no proven treatments.

What is the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge?
This iteration of the Ice Bucket Challenge may trace its origin back to minor league golfer Chris Kennedy.

Kennedy’s trainer did the challenge, which at the time went like this. You must dump a bucket of ice water on your head within 24 hours, or donate $100 to the charity of your choice. After you donate or dump the bucket, you challenge three others to participate.
According to a report on The Golf Channel, Kennedy’s trainer James Whatamore did the challenge, passed it on to another of Kennedy’s coaches, and then Kennedy did it. Kennedy recorded video of himself doing the ice bucket challenge and he chose the ALS Association for his donation as a family member has the disease.

That chain continued with several more people doing the challenge and keeping ALS Association as the beneficiary until it went viral.
As the trend has grown, some have modified it to the point where you either donate $100 or donate $10 and still dump the ice on your head.

The ALS Association had received $31.5 million in donations since July 29, compared to raising just $1.9 million in the same period last year, as a result of the challenge.

What is the ALS Association?
On its website, the ALS Association states it is “the only national, non-profit organization fighting Lou Gherig’s Disease on every front.” The organization is a leader in funding research for prevention, treatment and eventual cure for the disease. The organization focuses on research, advocacy, awareness and patient and community services. The ALS Association website can be found here.

What’s the problem with donating to the ALS Association?
Though the ALS Association does many good works towards the goal or treating and hopefully one day curing ALS, one of the methods they support is embryonic stem cell research. Catholic blogger and priest Father Michael Duffy reported that an email from the ALS Association to the Life League showed ALSA supports embryonic stem cell research.

The Archdiocese is not dissuading individual Catholics from making donations, but they are encouraged to be fully informed and make their own prudential judgments.The Archdiocese of Cincinnati has determined that its Catholic schools will not, as organizations, donate to that particular charity.

To quote St. John Paul II, “Any treatment which claims to save human lives, yet is based upon the destruction of human life in its embryonic state, is logically and morally contradictory, as is any production of human embryos for the direct or indirect purpose of experimentation or eventual destruction.”

What could Catholics do instead?
Raising awareness for diseases and ethical research for patient care and potential cures is a good thing and there’s no reason Catholic’s can’t participate. The key is making sure any donations, of challenges issued for others to donate, are directed toward places that participate in licit, morally responsible research.

An alternative to the ALS Association is the John Paul II Medical Research Institute. Though the institute is a secular non-profit, it chose to honor the late pope in its name to show its commitment to supporting a culture of life. The JP2MRI wrote on Twitter Aug. 20, “Over the past 5 days – The Institute has received 350 donations for $15,000 dollars. Thank you.”

Learn more about the John Paul II Medical Research Institute here.

Posted Aug. 20, 2014