By Taylor Provost, Staff Writer
The ice bucket challenge for the ALS Association (ALSA) has saturated social media and news outlets in the past month. From friends and family to religious leaders and celebrities, videos of those we know being doused in ice water in the name of Lou Gehrig’s disease have filled our newsfeeds. Those participating have continued the trend by nominating others to participate in the challenge.
The goal of the video phenomenon is not only to raise awareness of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), but also to raise money for the ALS Association, as those nominated to participate are also challenged to donate to the cause. According to alsa.org, the ALS Association has received $111.6 million in donations as of Sept. 10.
A percentage of the donations received are appropriated to research aimed at finding a cure for the disease. However, as the association’s website has stated, the ALSA believes that “adult stem cell research is important and should be done alongside embryonic stem cell research as both will provide valuable insights.”
Christian groups and schools have expressed concern with the ice bucket challenge, so the question remains: What does Olivet have to say about the ALS Association and embryonic stem cell research?
Embryonic stem cells are derived from embryos that have either been discarded from in vitro fertilization, or cell culture, which are embryos grown in laboratories for research purposes, according to stemcells.nih.gov.
According to healthresearchfunding.org, the main benefit of embryonic stem cell research is its potential.
“Embryonic stem cells have the ability to create new organs, tissues, and systems within the human body. With a little guidance from scientists, these stem cells have shown that they can become new organs, new blood vessels, and even new ligaments for those with ACL tears. By culturing stem cells and them implanting them, recovery times could be halved for many serious injuries, illnesses, and diseases,” the site said.
The ALSA’s website addresses that “the ethical issues involved hindered development” of embryonic stem cell research, however.
Because of the research methods the ALSA uses, many religious and pro-life groups have spoken out against the organization and refused to donate to the it, instead promoting other administrations that conduct stem cell research without the use of embryos. John Paul II Medical Research Institute is the main organization suggested by religious groups and anti-abortion advocates as a “morally acceptable” alternative to the ALSA.
According to the website, jp2mri.org, “it is a secular organization that is grounded in a pro-life bioethic that respects the dignity of every human life. The Institute has chosen a name honoring the late pontiff, St. John Paul II, that clearly demonstrates this unwavering commitment to the culture of life.”
In 2003, St. John Paul II said, “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.”
“Essentially, the ice bucket challenge was successful in making ALS a household name, and I applaud that,” freshman Case Koerner said. “What’s disappointing is the massive herd mentality the challenge revealed. Without batting an eye, many people participated and donated to an organization they know very little about,” she said. “I’m sure they are ignorant to the fact that only a certain percentage of funds actually go to research, or that they support embryonic stem cell research.”
The association’s website says that they “cannot project what the percentage of donations will go towards research until we have a solid plan in place.”
Koerner added, “I’m not necessarily saying donating is a bad thing, but people shouldn’t assume that every charity or organization has a good ethic, or is worth investing your money in.”
Other Olivet staff expressed similar concern about embryonic research tactics, but personal opinions varied.
“I think human life begins when God allows an egg and sperm to create a living cell. Anytime there is a loss [of life], it is a tragedy,” biology professor Dr. Aggie Veld said. “People continue, with or without legal permission, to terminate lives. But if the doctors could take something from the child, in the form of cells, to help others beyond the tragedy, in a way it’s a form of redemption.
“The ability to complete gestation has already been taken away; that doesn’t negate the legitimacy of that life,” she said. “If anything, it expresses the significance of a single cell’s ability, and that is my Father’s handiwork. [God] has allowed us to do some amazing things.”
Veld wiped away tears as she recalled the loss of her own daughter 21 years ago, who passed away at birth due to chromosomal defects.
“If I could’ve given my daughter’s cells [to research] when she died, I would have,” she added.
Fellow biology professor Dr. Leo Finkenbinder agreed with Veld’s point, to an extent.
“If you don’t want research done with [embryos], what do you want done to them?” Finkenbinder said.
“If I could, I would buy a plot of land and make a cemetery for all the aborted fetuses that have been thrown in the dumpster, give them a proper Christian burial and pay them respect,” he said. “But I just don’t see anyone doing that, or doing it anytime soon.”
Finkenbinder made his stance on abortion clear, calling it “a crime against humanity.”
For this reason, he prefers adult stem cell use over embryonic. He asked, “Should that resource [embryos] be wasted if they are discarded? Should we just throw them away? Maybe that is the way to go, I don’t know. It is complex.”
He added, “It’s amazing how many people I know that have died from ALS, though; it’s not a pretty thing, so I can see why it’s such a concern.”