Catholics warned about ice bucket challenge

Posted at 08/28/2014 12:37 PM

MANILA – The head of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines has a reminder to those taking the ice bucket challenge, which supports research efforts of the Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis Association (ALSA).

CBCP president Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas said research on ALS involves the use of stem cells.

''ALS is a degenerative disorder and stem-cells apparently hold out the promise of reversing the death and degeneration of brain cells, in particular,'' Villegas said in a statement.

''Stem cells however are most readily harvested from embryos, and it is in this regard that this type of research is ethically problematic."

Citing the ''Instruction on Respect for Human Life in Its Origin and on the Dignity of Procreation,'' Villegas noted that ''human embryos obtained in vitro are human beings and subjects with rights."

ALS is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that attacks nerve cells and pathways in the brain and spinal cord, which eventually leads to paralysis.

Villegas said the ALS Association said in a statement that ''most stem-cell research in ALS is currently focused on iPS (induced pluripotent stem) cells, which are not burdened with ethical issues."

''We are told that iPS cells are 'induced pluripotent stem cells', stem cells created from skin cells. Such cells would indeed be pluripotent, but would not be embryonic cells,'' the CBCP chief said.

''As such, the ethical objection to the use of embryonic cells, whether harvested from embryos, or obtained through in vitro fertilization, would not arise."

The prelate, however, noted that the ALS Association also admitted that ''iPS cells are used in 'most stem-cell research.'''

This, he said, ''leaves open the possibility that stem cells from objectionable sources are still used!"

Villegas said it would be premature to say that the ALS Association is involved in the ''unethical practice'' of using embryonic cells.

He said while ALS research is important, ''we must also guide the Catholic faithful, and all who heed the ethical teaching of the Church."

The CBCP chief urged those participating in the ALS ice bucket challenge ''to make a clear and unequivocal declaration that their donation is made on condition that none of it is to be applied to research that involves the use of embryonic stem cells, in vivo or in vitro."

''Catholics who participate in the challenge and who make donations to this research must also demand of fund-raisers and organizers an assurance that none of the donations made will be applied to researches that are ethically reproved,'' he added.

Villegas said the church will support research on ALS and other debilitating diseases as long as they are kept within the ''confines of the ethical demands of human dignity."

The ALS ice bucket challenge has gone viral in the last few weeks. Anyone nominated to do the ice bucket challenge has to do it within 24 hours or donate to the ALS Association.

The ALS Association has raised $94.3 million as of August 27, as the ice bucket challenge has been taken up by celebrities, political and business figures all over the world.