Throwing Cold Water On The ALS “Ice Bucket Challenge”

I really don’t mean to be a killjoy. I love the fact that millions of people are engaging in the latest “Ice Bucket Challenge” to elicit donations for finding a cure for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS – Lou Gehrig’s Disease). I’ve seen the moving story on ESPN about the gutsy baseball star (Pete Frates) from Boston College who initiated the whole movement. I pray that the almost 1000% increase in donations to the ALS Association as a result of this “Ice Bucket Challenge” phenomenon will accelerate the finding of a cure that cannot come too soon.

ALS is a heartbreaking, debilitating, evil disease. I know this because I’ve been watching my father-in-law suffer with it for almost 8 years now. I hate ALS.

But I hate the willful and selfish destruction of innocent human beings more.

The “Ice Bucket Challenge” has become a cultural phenomenon that only the modern social media monster could create. But those who engage in it need to know that the ALS Association’s search for a cure includes their own unapologetic support for Embryonic Stem Cell Research (ESCR). Stem cells offer an exciting area of research that may prove to lead to the most powerful cures for some of the most horrendous diseases mankind faces. But we all need to distinguish betweens Stem Cell Research and Embryonic Stem Cell Research. When it comes to ethics and how we all value human life, the differences between them couldn’t be more stark.

I and others at the Life Training Institute have written about the failures and ethical issues surrounding ESCR before (here, here, here, here, and here among other places). The moral issue centers on only one thing: From what source do you derive the stem cells? ESCR destroys frozen or cloned embryos of a small, defenseless human beings for the benefit of others. The simple fact is that the clinical promise and moral superiority of adult stem cell and induced pluripotent stem cells (IPSC) over ESCR is undeniable and avoids the destruction of innocent human beings. We don’t have to resort to barbarism to seek a cure for diseases.

So, what to do?

You can begin by reading a short news story on “What’s Wrong With The Ice Bucket Challenge?” It gives a short overview of the issue and a couple of solutions:

1) There is an alternative research group that does not engage in ESCR, the John Paul II Medical Research Institute. Feel free to dump a bucket of ice water on your head if you are so-inclined, but then send your money to an institute that respects the value of human life at all stages.

2) Alternatively, if you want to donate to the ALS Association anyway, include with your donation a stipulation that your funds are not permitted to be used in any ESCR program. The Association’s Chief Communications and Marketing Officer, Carrie Munk, has made a public commitment that they will not use your funds to support ESCR if you do so.

To be fair, the ALS Association does support a wide array of alternative research programs. I don’t want to disparage an organization that is doing so much to try to find a cure for ALS. But please, if you choose option 2), do so with great trepidation because Ms. Munk also claims that “under very strict guidelines, The Association may fund embryonic stem cell research in the future.” Seeing that there are no “very strict guidelines” that are strict enough to allow for the destruction of innocent human beings, this doesn’t seem like an acceptable risk to take.

Let’s end ALS, but let’s end it the right way.

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21 thoughts on “Throwing Cold Water On The ALS “Ice Bucket Challenge”

  1. ESCR uses donated 5 day old Embryos that were going to be discarded anyways. Surplus IVF embryos are not suitable for implantation on humans, so they are discarded. Basically is a choice between discarding the embryos and using them to research. Your choice.

  2. Also understand if you choose option two, you are freeing up their other funds to support embryonic stem cell research. So no matter what you do, sending money to this organization does support abortion.

  3. What makes you think IVF embryos are "not suitable for implantation in humans?" You do know that IVF embryos are frozen for later use, right? IVF does not create a choice between discarding them and using them for research. It offers a choice between killing embryonic human beings or allowing them to live. That's the choice.

  4. Frozen embryos ARE people. They aren't "destined to become" anything else. They can be implanted or adopted.

    Also, understand that there is no such thing as a "fertilized egg." This is a smokescreen used by pro-abortion folks to avoid the reality of the humanity of the unborn.

    There are eggs and there are sperm. When the eggs meet the sperm, they unite to form a distinct new entity — an early stage human being. An embryo is just a way to describe the stage of development of that human being. This is basic scientific fact that can be found in any embryology text book.

  5. The organization does not support abortion (explicitly anyway). It supports stem cell research. There is nothing implicitly wrong with stem cell research. As I said in the post, it depends where you get your stem cells. If you get them from human embryos, you are committing an immoral act. Designating that your funds NOT be used for that purpose is not supporting abortion — it is making an explicit moral statement against embryo-destructive research.

  6. I meant Surplus IVF embryos. Those that are not suitable for implantation for various reasons. Definition: "What are surplus embryos?
    Surplus embryos are embryos that are produced in the course of an in vitro fertilization procedure but cannot be used to establish a pregnancy and therefore have no prospect of survival (Article 2 Letter b StFG)." From what I can tell in my research is that the ESCR does not use Embryos that would have survived. Before 2001 surplus Embryos were frozen for ever, which to me is tantamount to disposing.

    I don't understand why you are against using embryos that are going to be killed, regardless, into research?

  7. Each to their own definition and belief system, but embryos are not people who can live freely on their own –they need to be carried to term, which requires a woman's uterus. Are you suggesting that all embryos be brought to term? Or remain frozen into eternity? I don't know anyone who "wants" to have an abortion, and I don't know anyone who is "pro" abortion. I am in favor of birth control, sex education, and bringing wanted children into the world. Here we have an opportunity to use cells that would otherwise go unclaimed, to make a difference in the lives of people already living on earth. Helping those with spinal injuries walk, helping to cure those with ALS …wow. What a contribution to humanity.

  8. Guillermo … you are not going to "survive" either. All of us are destined to die. But does that fact negate your value as a human being or your right to life?

    The point is simply that embryos are members of the human family and that it is a grave moral wrong to destroy some (defenseless) human beings in order to benefit others. There are other ways that are not only more effective, but that do not include the destruction of human beings. It's that simple.

  9. "Each to their own definition and belief system,…"

    Really, Melinda? So, if someone were to define all women of your ethnic background unsuitable for life but useful for genetic research that would kill you but allow others to live, your response would be,"Well, to each his own on their definitions and belief systems." You see, your position is easy to claim when you are the one in the position of power and the research might benefit you. But, be careful when you claim that we should all be fine with allowing others to define away our worth as a human being.

    "… embryos are not people who can live freely on their own –they need to be carried to term, which requires a woman's uterus."

    And neither were you once. Neither is a two year-old able to "live freely on their own." The simple fact is that the women's uterus is exactly where the embryo was designed to be at that point in its human development. Where you are does not change what you are.

    "I don't know anyone who 'wants' to have an abortion, and I don't know anyone who is 'pro' abortion. I am in favor of birth control, sex education, and bringing wanted children into the world."

    That all sounds very nice and non-judgmental … until you throw the word "wanted" into the mix. Wow, it doesn't get anymore selfish than that.

  10. Oh, I get it now. You are not against Embryonic Stem Cell Research. You are opposed to the surplus of IVF embryos that are discarded. Since you are not against ESCR, then we are slightly in the same plane. Since ESCR uses embryos that would have been killed anyways.

    The current options available are Discarding the Embryos or performing research on the embryo. Both options have the same fatal consequence on the embryo. Research is only done on those that are going to die. You are suggesting to minimize or eliminate the discarded Embryos. Since the cause of discarded embryos is not ESCR or similar research.

    You cannot attack the research like you do in this blog post simply because completely banning ESCR will not reduce or eliminate the discarding of Embryos, which is your main objective.

  11. Guillermo,
    I'm not sure how in the world you could read anything I've written here or elsewhere that I am "not against ESCR." Amazing.

    But, just for the record, what I am against is killing innocent, unborn, defenseless human beings. No matter what method of killing you choose, I am against it.

  12. OK, Let me put it this way.

    If you succeed in completely removing ESCR and other similar research. You will have NOT reduced the killing of the "innocent, unborn, defenseless human beings," as you put it. So, the only thing you would have accomplished is to remove a line of understanding from our knowledge collection and you will not achieve what you really want.

    I know what you really want, but eliminating ESCR will not achieve it, not even a little. I understand that you are against all methods of killing. But why target ESCR when it makes no difference on the number of killed embryo?

    On an unrelated note. This debate is actually quite interesting to me am I am glad that you are honest and forward on your replies. I've encountered other bloggers that won't even post the other people's comments if it goes against what the blogger says. So thanks for that. Carry on.

  13. Guillermo,

    I'm glad you find it interesting and that you are willing to discuss these kinds if things civilly. You're right, it is uncommon but necessary.

    That said, I'm not sure I follow your reasoning. If my aim is to protect defenseless human beings from being killed, and if ESCR does in fact kill them (which is an undebatable scientific fact), then any reduction in ESCR achieves my goal. That was the point of the original post. It baffles me that some insist on pursuing ESCR when these ethical questions about it persist AND it has shown no results anyway. This is especially true when there are other methods of research that don’t resort to embryo destruction and have shown to be more promising. IPSC has a history of showing positive results without acquiescing to the ethical failings of ESCR. Are you familiar with it or with the use of adult stem cells in general?

    Remember what I'm saying. I am all for successful stem cell research. That's not the problem. The ethical problem is with embryonic stem cell research.

    You are also entangling ESCR and IVF as if they are mutually dependent projects. They are not. There are ethical concerns with the issue of "leftover" IVF-produced embryos that should make us pause to consider not only how many are produced, but how to treat the "excess" embryos. There are ethical ways to treat “excess" embryos that don't include their wanton destruction for our benefit. Allowing them to be destroyed "because they're going to die anyway" is a morally vacuous view in my opinion.

    Think about this … it is an ethically parallel position to the way cloning is viewed today … Human cloning for the purpose of creating a new human being that is allowed to live is illegal. But human cloning for the sole purpose of using the clones to extract their embryonic stem cells for research is OK. We can clone to kill but not to let live.

    Does that make sense to you? I hope not. Does that not create a little cognitive dissonance for you? I hope so. Do you not see that your position on ESCR treats a living human embryo the same way?

    We either respect the value of human life or we don't. How that life came to be is irrelevant once we have it in front of us. That's the ethical issue you have to consider.

  14. I need to split my post in two. Hope you don't mind. The first is an analogy and the second is a counter argument for the "failure" of ESCR.

    I am not arguing about the value of human life. I am arguing about being against ESCR.

    An analogy. If I have 10 Kinder Chocolate Surprise Eggs with a very very rare chance of getting a good surprise and the rest is worthless (aka a toy you don't want), but unfortunately I don't like Chocolate or surprises. So I am going to throw them away. That is 10 chocolate eggs thrown away. But you come along and say to me, "I don't like chocolate, but I do want to see what's inside." Assuming I am a jerk :/ and I am only going to give you 3 eggs. You get the eggs and check their surprise. Then you throw away the eggs and since the surprise is probly worthless, you will throw away the surprise too.

    The tally is that I threw away 7 eggs and you threw away 3 eggs. Total number of eggs in the garbage is 10. Now, If somebody, say Melinda from below wants no eggs to be thrown away saying that the worthless surprise could be given to somebody else and the chocolate is amazing to eat. She then targets you to prevent you from acting. If she succeeds then you would not be able to even get your hands on the eggs. So Prevented you from through away the egg. So Has Melinda achieved her goal? No, because in the end the total number of eggs thrown away is still 10. Whatever policy she enact on you will not affect in any way what I do with my 10 eggs. By preventing you from acting, the only thing that it accomplished was from you to see what the surprises are.

    However, she could have instead tried to convince me to give those eggs to charity or give it to her or do something else that would not destroy the eggs. She needs not to be worried about you, since if she successfully convinces me of not destroying the eggs, then you would not destroy the eggs either.

    "You are also entangling ESCR and IVF as if they are mutually dependent projects. They are not. " I never said this. I did say that ESCR is Dependent on IVF. This is a fact. But IVF is not dependent on ESCR. Hence, they are not mutually dependent. Stopping IVF all together, would effectively stop ESCR (Until they find something else to get the eggs from). But stopping ESCR will absolutely not stop IVF or even reduce any number of discarded embryos.

    I understand that you are against removing a life by any means. But I think that you are barking up the wrong tree. Your blog post has a chance of influencing some of your followers into not donating to the ALSA. And I think that that is damaging, since the organization is one of the top tier Non-profits in usage of funds towards their program, and most of the funds do not go to ESCR. You even pointed it out in your blog. Additionally, you do not know if the ESCR research would actually yield something useful at some point.

  15. Second Part:

    Another argument that you make and is reflected on other articles made by you and many others is that ESCR has made no medical success in the entirety of it's research. However, you seem to be ignoring two things:

    1) The time the research has been going on. Although I tried my best to find earlier research i couldn't find any research prior to 1990. And I am talking about Human Embryonic Research. The first human trial happened in 2009. So, research has been going for about 25 years and the part were we can see if it works started 5 years ago. In medical terms, this is insufficient time to actually achieve anything. Most medical research takes decades to fulfill any medical advance. Consider Cancer, Diabetes, AIDS and several other diseases that after many decades of suffering and research, we are barely able to make a small improvement. We have successfully made AIDS a chronic disease that will no longer kill you (as long as you don't stop the treatment), but it took over 50 years of research.

    2) This is Stem Cell Research is new science and it's really hard. ESCR is even harder and there are many scientific difficulties that still need to be overcome. Add to these the limitations imposed by ethical groups, bans and the difficulty to legally obtain an Embryo. All these compounded makes research into stem cells extremely slow. Funding on it is quite low. I think I saw a number of 160 million in 6 years (2001-2007). Funding doubled after 2009.

    In conclusion, saying that ESCR has not achieved anything is NOT an argument against ESCR because of the relatively new and slow that it is.

    Man, that was long.

  16. Guillermo .. your analogies and appeals to the potential efficacy of ESCR only work if one accepts the faulty assumption that the an embryo is NOT a human being. If it's not a human being, do all the ESCR, and have all the abortions, you want. I don't care.

    But, if it is a human being, none of your appeals serve to mollify the ethical questions that must be answered or justify killing it in order to satisfy our selfish desires. That's why your arguments fail in a moral sense — because science confirms the fact that the embryo is a human being, and philosophy/ethics confirms that it is wrong to kill an innocent human being. I honestly couldn't care less how successful ESCR might become because its clinical success cannot serve to overcome its moral failings.

    On a side note, your claim about the ALSA being "top-tier" depends on what your criteria for judgement are. They may do great research but I have seen elsewhere (can't find it right now) that only 27% of their donations actually end up being used for research. That's pretty pitiful if you ask me, especially when I see that their president makes nearly $300,000/year.

  17. The ALSA is also currently funding a research study being conducted on an aborted fetus. I believe it also has to do with stem cells. They admit to it on their webpage if you want to verify. That paired with the embryonic stem cell research are the reasons I can't give them any money in good conscience. I see many of my Christian pro life friends doing the ice bucket challenge on Facebook and wonder if they would regret it if they took the time to do a little research as to what type of research they just helped fund.