Matthew Gambino

What could be wrong about raising awareness and money for research on Lou Gehrig’s disease while having a bucket of ice water dumped over your head? It’s good clean fun and it’s for a good cause, so it’s harmless, right?

Actually, it isn’t, when you realize how the money may be used.

First, donated funds typically go to the ALS Association, the group that does a good job advocating for people suffering from the paralyzing, incurable and ultimately fatal neurological disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, which killed New York Yankees great Lou Gehrig and affects an estimated 30,000 Americans.

ALSA reports as of Aug. 22 that it received $53.3 million in donations since July 29 when celebrities and uncounted other folks started posting videos of themselves on Facebook getting doused in the Ice Bucket Challenge. Last year in that time period the association raised $2.2 million. The big rush in donations has come not only from existing donors but from more than 1.1 million new donors.

That’s a viral marketing grand slam — all free and all fun.

Except when you consider how the money is intended to be used, at least in part. ALSA indicates on its website that it not only advocates embryonic stem cell research but is encouraging the Obama administration to reverse the current federal policy that restricts funding for the research. Today federal funds can only be used for research that utilizes embryonic stem cell lines derived prior to August 2001.

Catholic social teaching on the use of stem cells is clear: the technology should be pursued for its promised benefits to treat or cure many serious conditions including ALS, but only where that research does not destroy human life in the process.

Such is the case with embryonic stem cells, which are derived for research purposes by destroying the human embryo. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches: “It is immoral to produce human embryos intended for exploitation as disposable biological material” (no. 2275).

Stem cells from skin and other tissues donated by adults, by contrast, may be used ethically, and they have already led to therapeutic treatments and cures for scores of conditions and injuries. Stem cell research is proving to be effective without the ethical objections of embryonic stem cell research.

One example of an organization that does not use embryos in its stem cell research is the Iowa-based John Paul II Medical Research Institute. And the ALS Association now says that its donors can stipulate where their money goes and can ask that donations not pay for embryonic stem cell research.

So go ahead and take the Ice Bucket Challenge, and after toweling off, direct your donation toward ethical research. You’ll feel better for doing it, in every way.