The Battle Over the Ice Bucket Challenge

bush-ice-bucket-challengeIf you’re connected in any way to social media or if you are just a casual watcher of the news, you have not escaped the videos of celebrities and ordinary citizens being doused with varying amounts of ice water poured out of everything from Tupperware bowls to buckets of front-end loaders. It seems to be everywhere, and it has many bucketfuls of cash for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) charities. It has also raised awareness to some extent.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with ALS, here is a synopsis from the ALS Association’s website: “Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), often referred to as “Lou Gehrig’s Disease,” is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. Motor neurons reach from the brain to the spinal cord and from the spinal cord to the muscles throughout the body. The progressive degeneration of the motor neurons in ALS eventually leads to their death. When the motor neurons die, the ability of the brain to initiate and control muscle movement is lost. With voluntary muscle action progressively affected, patients in the later stages of the disease may become totally paralyzed.” (http://www.alsa.org/about-als/what-is-als.html)

Currently there is no cure. Only one drug (riluzole) has been shown to be effective in slowing down progression, though a number of other medical treatments are in the clinical trial phase. In addition, there are some therapies that can help people remain independent as long as possible. There are a few people who have had their ALS progression slowed dramatically, but for most it is a frustrating and progressive decline in physical health. One person has described it as slowly becoming imprisoned in your own body.

Along comes the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, and it seems that everyone is getting in on the icy action. It is having some impact. ALSA reports that it collected donations of over $40 million in July alone. That more than doubles what they received in all of 2013. Over 700,000 new donors have contributed. So, the challenge is having an impact, but there are many who have concerns over this highly popular effort. Why would one argue with something seemingly so successful?

(1) The Ice Bucket Challenge Is Merely Narcissism.
Admittedly, some people may be doing this to get their video seen by friends. Dumping a bucket of ice water on your head can be a bit of self-promotion, getting one 15 seconds of fame, but we must be careful not to pain with too broad a brush. Not everyone’s motivation is the same.

I myself did the Ice Bucket Challenge. I poured about 3 gallons of ice water over my head… and it was quite chilly. I did it in memory of my late friend Don Steele who succumbed to the effects of ALS some weeks back. I also made a donation to ALS research, as did many who endured the icy ordeal. I can only speak for myself, but in accepting the challenge of my former college roommate (who gave) and passing it along to a great friend in Texas (who gave) and then challenged others (who gave), the motivation was not self-promotion but joining with others to move toward eliminating a currently uncureable disease.

(2) The Ice Bucket Challenge Will Have No Lasting Impact.
I can’t argue with you on this one. It is highly unlikely that next July ALS charities will see $40 million in donations. It may be a little higher, but the ice will melt and the water puddles will dry up and life the next internet sensation will arrive. That’s just reality, and the people receiving and managing the donations know that full well, too. 

The lasting impact may not be in sustained donations. Perhaps the impact will be in new medicines and treatments that will make life better for those with ALS and their families. Or better yet, maybe the impact will be a cure that saves thousands of people from watching their world slowly shrink around them.

(3) The Ice Bucket Challenge Has Raised Millions for a Group that Kills the Unborn.
Let’s consider that one for a moment, for it puts many believers who are pro-life in a seeming dilemma. Some of the research being done seeking a treatment for ALS using embryonic stem cells. I am pro-life, so this one hits pretty close to home, so let’s take a moment to focus on this.

According to the FAQ section of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission’s (ERLC) website: “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.” (http://erlc.com/article/the-faqs-the-als-ice-bucket-challenge)

Carrie Munk, a representative of the ALSA, responded to an email from the American Life League: “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.”

So, what we can glean from this is that the ALSA uses fertilized embryos less than a week old (http://www.alsa.org/research/about-als-research/stem-cells.html) for research purposes. As someone who believes life starts at conception, this is a very real concern. I’m not saying that those who donate to the ALSA have no regard for the unborn. I would say that most who made donations to that organization did so without any knowledge that the ALSA was involved with embryonic stem cell research at all (and I confess that I’m one of them). Nor am I saying that those who work for the ALSA are evil, wicked people who are for the slaughter of the innocents. Their rationale is that these were fertilized embryos that were not going to be implanted into a woman’s womb, therefore they were going to sit in a freezer in perpetuity. I’m not sure I agree with their logic, but it’s a far cry from the ISIS radicals who are lopping off the heads of children in Iraqi villages.

What, then, are pro-life believers to do in the face of this moral dilemma? We want to help the 30,000 people currently afflicted with ALS and prevent more from facing the same fate, but we do not want our money going to toward the violation and termination of human life. I would suggest that life-affirming Christians go ahead and take their frigid shower AND that they give thoughtfully to an ALS charity of their choice… and there are some that do not use embryonic stem cells for research. I just cut and pasted these from the ELRC’s website:

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.​

I don’t endorse self-promotion, but I am all for the promotion of a worthy cause. So I challenge everyone reading this (and I’m aware that my circle of influence is not much beyond the diameter a hula hoop), go ahead and take the plunge. Get and cold and wet. Donate to a worthy charity that fights ALS. And PRAY that those who are currently suffering with the disease and the families that suffer with them will find the Lord’s comfort and find that a cure is just over the horizon.

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