Monday, August 25, 2014

ALS Ethical Dilemma

Just wanted to pass some info I found along for those of you in a similar situation to me. I was honored enough to be challenged to the ice bucket challenge. I figured that would eventually happen. I also wondered when some dirt would be dug up on the ALS Association incriminating them in funding some dastardly deeds. That's the way it works right? We all get excited to be helping some cause then a blogger in Indiana finds out that it's a scam or that it is funding golf trips for executives or the torture of hamsters.

As has been pointed out by many this "dirt" came in the form of embryonic stem-cell research. Many sources started pointing out that the ALS Association does fund stem-cell research including one study that uses embryonic stem-cells.

There are mitigating factors to consider. Embryos used are those created as a byproduct of fertility efforts. When in-vitro fertilization is attempted there are usually unused fertilized eggs that parents can choose to donate to science. The research isn't creating embryos to experiment on. Still, does the source really matter? Also, it appears that the one embryonic study that is funded by ALSA is fully funded by one donor, meaning that currently none of the money that you give would be diverted directly to that study.

So what's the problem? ALSA could decide at any time to start funding embryonic stem-cell research.

What's wrong with that anyway? (This part is pretty involved. If you're just looking for alternatives to ALSA the skip to the end.)

Well, that depends on when you believe life begins. The Roman Catholic Church's as well as most pro-Life organizations' view is that life begins at conception, by which they mean at the moment of fertilization. Some even within the Pro-Life camp would clarify that they believe live begins at implantation. Further down the spectrum others believe in markers for life such as a heartbeat or brain activity. Finally, there are those who seem to believe that life doesn't begin until a child is born or maybe even several minutes after they are born.

If you are with the majority of Catholics and Evangelicals who believe life begins at conception then you also need to be against embryonic stem-cell research since that would be destroying living humans. You should also be opposed to in-vitro fertilization since that is what makes such research possible to begin with.

If you are with the segment that believes life begins at implantation or even at some point after, there is still an ethical question before you. Just because an embryo is not yet technically alive does that absolve us from any ethical responsibility to it? You see, the question isn't ultimately a scientific one, it is a philosophical/ethical one. Embryos are undeniably living (all of our cells are technically alive). The question is are they to be treated ethically as human beings. It seems clear to me that from the moment of implantation what you have is a viable human life that will, according to the rules of nature, progress if left unhindered into a fully formed self-actualized human being. The moments between fertilization and implantation may be a grey area, but what an important grey area! So important, I believe, that it is a far better moral option to avoid the grey area. By that I mean that it is better not to create fertilized eggs that will not have the chance of implantation. Creating embryos that will have no chance implanting and progressing to life is something that should be avoided wherever possible. This type of creation happens in nature (that is, embryos that are doomed to fail), but when we bend the course of nature to create them we become responsible for the outcome of this nascent human life.

So if you want absolutely no part of it, what are your options?


  1. If you've already given to ALSA, take comfort in the fact that it is very unlikely your funds will be used in this type of research.
  2. If you've yet to give but feel obliged to give to ALSA because of a promise or good faith statement or something, you can still do so. Simply stipulate that your funds must not be used for Embryonic Stem-Cell Research. (There are no common ethical objections to using adult stem-cells for research).
  3. If you haven't given yet, but you would still like to give toward ALS research, there are alternative charities. 
    1. I personally would like to suggest St. Jude Children's hospital. They are not currently doing any embryonic research, and while they do not have a clear guideline that they will never do it, it seems they are on a course to avoid that kind of conflict all together.
    2. Team Gleason Is another suggested alternative that I haven't researched.
    3. John Paul II Medical Research Institute Is an organization that explicitly states they do not and will not support embryonic stem-cell research. 
    4. The ERLC has more suggestions.
  4. Give to whoever you want! Honor the spirit of the challenge by keeping the movement going and supporting the cause of your choice. 
Above all, avoid the temptation to become cynical. It is easy to find seedy human motives behind every activity we take part in. The challenge for those of us seeking Wisdom in this life, is to cling to that which is pure and holy wherever we may find it. 


Philippians 4:8  Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. (NASB)