Sun | Oct 22, 2017

'Don't send them your money'

Published:Sunday | August 31, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Accepting the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge from reggae artiste Gramps Morgan, Digicel Brand Ambassador Miss Kitty stepped up to the mission before an excited crowd in downtown Kingston. -File photos

Catholics pour cold water on ALS ice bucket contributions

Ryon Jones, Staff Reporter

Local Catholics have lined up behind their American counterparts who have urged persons doing the increasingly popular ice bucket challenge not to send their money to the ALS Association.

American Archbishop Michael Jackels and others are leading a campaign for persons who take the ice bucket challenge to divert donations away from the ALS Association, and into the John Paul II Medical Research Institute in Iowa City instead.

Jackels, the Archbishop of the Dubuque Diocese, in the American state of Iowa, argues that the ALS Association engages in stem-cell research practices which run contrary to Catholic principles, and Catholics in Jamaica agree.

"It would be a similar position that we would hold, that if what we would be donating to is an institution that uses questionable source matter, then we would say we officially have a problem, and so we would not encourage donations to that particular institution," said Monsignor Michael Lewis, spokesperson for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Kingston and pastor of the St Richard's Roman Catholic Church.

"If there is another institution engaged in the same kind of work, and how they go about their research is not a contravention to the church's teachings, then we would say it is OK to make donations to that particular organisation, whoever they may be," added Lewis.

The ALS ice bucket challenge has been sending chills across the planet, as numerous persons have endured being dowsed with ice-cold water in a bid to raise awareness and well-needed funds for persons suffering from Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), popularly called 'Lou Gehrig's Disease' which is a condition that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord.

Jamaicans taken on the challenge

Jamaican personalities have not been missing out on the action, as the likes of Usain Bolt, Lisa Hanna, Asafa Powell, Tessanne Chin, and Warren Weir have already taken on the challenge.

The ALS Association has received in excess of US$94 million in donations from existing donors and 2.1 million new donors already this year, compared to US$2.7 million during the corresponding period last year.

According to Lewis, there is no opposition to the organisation getting all the financial support it is given, as long as the money is not used to undertake what the Catholic Church deems unethical research.

"It is a most worthy cause, but we still need to be careful that no matter what the cause is, that the method that we use is one that is healthy," said Lewis.

Jackels has argued that "donating to the ALS Association is inconsistent with Catholic moral teaching as it promotes stem-cell research that destroys embryonic human beings".

Lewis, who is part of a local Catholic community which numbers close to 60,000, according to a 2011 Statistical Institute of Jamaica census, says the issue of stem-cell research is not black and white.

"The whole thing about stem-cell research is not a simple issue, because the church is not against stem-cell research totally and completely. We say that there are some stem cells that may be permissible to use like, for instance, stem cells that are taken from the afterbirth.

"So, in other words, if human life is not being trifled with, is not being sacrificed so stem cells taken from that could be used, the church says that is OK. But to take from an aborted foetus, the church says that is a definite no. So as to what is the source of the stem cells is one issue," explained Lewis.

"If the organisation in question can guarantee the source of their material and that the source is not something that the church would have a problem with then, from an ethical point of view, it would be OK, but if they cannot guarantee what the source of their material is, then the church would have an issue with it."

ALS response

In response to Sunday Gleaner queries about the concerns of the Roman Catholic denomination, Greg Cash, communications director at the ALS Association, was adamant that his organisation was committed to eradicating the degenerative disease at all costs.

"The ALS Association's vision is to create a world without ALS. To that end, the association is committed to leaving no stone unturned in the quest to discover effective treatments and a cure for Lou Gehrig's Disease," said Cash.

"The association believes that stem-cell research is an evolving field that holds the potential to provide benefit to people with ALS in the future. The pursuit of stem-cell research with appropriate scientific review and ethical guidelines directly furthers the mission of the ALS Association in finding a cure for and improving living with ALS."

Continued Cash: "The ALS Association primarily funds adult stem-cell research. Currently, the association is funding one study using embryonic stem cells and the stem cell line was established many years ago under ethical guidelines set by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. 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."

ryon.jones@gleanerjm.com