Lsat week I saw, then posted, a General Assembly member's ALS Ice Bucket Challenge video. I thought it was a fun moment and, as someone who watches the very serious work of the Virginia legislature as closely as I do, liked the offbeat nature of it . The challenge, which has swept the world and raised millions of dollars for an organization that funds the fight to end Lou Gehrig's Disease, is heartwarming and brought some cheer and optimism to those who suffer from this dreaded affliction as well as their loved ones and survivors of those who have died from it. It's even made nice copy and video among that which daily conveys the world's horrifying chaos. It's hard not to be touched by this clever, viral sensation. I have a friend whose mother died from ALS and as this challenge morphed into the massive on-going event with some of my favorite athletes and personalities taking part, I thought of him. But maybe we need to take a step back and not get caught up in the hoopla just yet.
Amid the warm and fuzzy feelings, news surfaced that the ALS Association, the beneficiary of the millions of dollars raised, is funding research on embryonic stem cells. While it primarily uses money to fund research on adult stem cells, it admitted in this letter that it currently funds research on embryonic stem cells. (By the way, adult stem cell research has yielded hundreds of medical breakthroughs compared to the almost non-existent success of embryonic stem cell research.) LifeNews.com provides some in-depth research and reporting of the ALS Association's funded embryonic stem cell research.
This quite justifiably has raised serious concerns. The ALS Association has said donations can be earmarked solely for its research on adult stem cells. However, as an official at LiveAction.org said in a television interview, all money is fungible — anything it raises for ASC research allows it to shift more general dollars to ESC research. David Prentice at the Family Research Council Blog provides more insight here, including the names of organizations (and how to donate information) that fund only ASC research in the fight against ALS. Among the non-profits are: the Midwest Stem Cell Therapy Center, the Mayo Clinic and the John Paul II Medical Research Institute.
The reaction to the news about the ALS Association's use of ESCs has been pretty swift and ice bucket challenge donations are starting to flow into those other organizations. For example, U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (last year's Family Foundation Gala Keynote Speaker) recently took the challenge but, according to The Hill, he donated his money to the John Paul II Medical Research Institute, which funds ALS research exclusively on adult stem cells.
Catholic bishops around the country also are issuing warnings about donating to the ALS Foundation. Deacon Keith Fournier of Chesapeake, a human rights lawyer, explains at Catholic Online in his typically methodical and insightful way why he said "no" to the ice bucket challenge and includes the Diocese of Richmond's warning (see the AP/New York Post). Both encourage donations to the John Paul II Institute.
While the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge is of noble purpose, it also is proof positive that rushing into a do-good-feel-good opportunity may not be. A pause for research and reflection should accompany any lightening quick movement, however lovable it seems — some cold water, perhaps, to sober up from the emotional momentum. In this case, we now have been sufficiently showered. Go ahead. Douse yourself for the cause. Just be sure your money and your challenge is directed to organizations that research this horrible disease responsibly.