Ice Bucket Challenge hits stem cell snag

Baptist Press
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Posted: Aug 25, 2014 5:52 PM
NASHVILLE (BP) -- Participants in the popular Ice Bucket Challenge, which has raised more than $50 million to combat ALS, may be unwittingly supporting embryonic stem cell research, pro-life advocates have warned.

The ALS Association, the principal charity benefitting from the challenge, said in a statement that it currently sponsors one study using embryonic stem cells, though donors can "stipulate that their funds not be invested in this study or any stem cell project." Any future embryonic stem cell research will be conducted "under very strict guidelines," the association said.

The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission posted a Q&A on its website Aug. 22 cautioning those considering donations to the ALS Association.

"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," ERLC staff members Andrew Walker and Joe Carter wrote. "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."

Walker and Carter noted that there are "pathways to participation" in the Ice Bucket Challenge "that don't require moral compromise" and listed three ALS charities that only fund adult stem cell research: the Midwest Stem Cell Therapy Center, the Adult Stem Cell Technology Center, LLC and Dr. Anthony Windebank's team at the Mayo Clinic.

ALS is an acronym for Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a neurological disease that killed baseball great Lou Gehrig and gained the nickname Lou Gehrig's disease. Approximately 80,000 Americans have ALS. The Ice Bucket Challenge features people pouring cold water on themselves, posting a video of it on social media and challenging others to do the same or donate to an ALS charity or both.

Embryonic stem cell research involves extracting cells from an embryo that was conceived through in vitro fertilization but never implanted in a woman's uterus. Such research destroys a days-old human being and has never resulted in clinical treatment of any human affliction. In contrast, adult stem cell research, which does not destroy human beings, has produced therapies for dozens of medical conditions. Research with induced pluripotent stem cells, which also does not destroy embryos, has shown promise.

In 1999 the SBC adopted a resolution expressing "vigorous opposition to the destruction of innocent human life, including the destruction of human embryos." The resolution urged a ban on using tax dollars to support embryonic stem cell research and asked private companies to cease any research that destroys human embryos, "the most vulnerable members of the human community."

When the superintendent of Catholic schools for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati took the Ice Bucket Challenge, the archdiocese issued a statement urging Catholics to donate to ALS charities that do not sponsor embryo-destructive research if they take the Ice Bucket Challenge.

"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 Aug. 20 statement said according to LifeNews. "...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.'"

Katie Fruge, a student at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, wrote in a blog post that she views the Ice Bucket Challenge as a way of expressing empathy to ALS victims.

"The reason why I love the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge is that in the midst of the current global tragedies, it provides us with a brief moment to stop and recognize those who are silently suffering from a debilitating disease," Fruge wrote. "The Ice Bucket Challenge began with a friend declaring to a friend, 'We acknowledge you. You are important. Your suffering matters to us. We're going to try to help in our own small way.'"

Among the notable personalities to take the Ice Bucket Challenge are former President George W. Bush, Microsoft founder Bill Gates and former SBC President Jack Graham.

Compiled by David Roach, chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention's news service. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists' concerns nationally and globally. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).

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