We received so many great questions and comments regarding last week’s article about the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, so I wanted to post my answers to some of your questions in an article.
But first, I must tell you that the tremendous response we received confirmed two things for me:
- Pro-life Americans care deeply about ALL human life — including those suffering from diseases like ALS.
- Pro-life Americans have deep convictions about how they steward their dollars to help those who suffer from such diseases.
I’ve pulled the most common questions from your emails and blog comments and responded to them below. And I’ve included links to the various articles cited in the responses so you can get more information. Thanks to Dave Sterrett and Kari Buddenberg at Human Coalition for their research and contributions to this article.
Q: What is embryonic stem cell research and why is it morally wrong? Is it the same as adult stem cell research?
A: Embryonic stem cell research (ESCR) and adult stem cell research are two very different things. The National Institutes of Health (a part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services) notes,
Embryonic stem cells, as their name suggests, are derived from embryos. Most embryonic stem cells are derived from embryos that develop from eggs that have been fertilized in vitro—in an in vitro fertilization clinic—and then donated for research purposes with informed consent of the donors. They are not derived from eggs fertilized in a woman’s body.
This government language is highly sanitized, so I’ll translate. When it says, “derived from embryos,” it means the cells are extracted from embryos, killing them in the process. In other words, human beings are aborted so some of their cells can be used for medical research. The note about in vitro embryos vs. eggs fertilized in a woman’s body is irrelevant. The location of the human embryo does not have any bearing on the fact that he or she is killed in the process of extracting stem cells.
This is in stark contrast to adult stem cell research, which does not kill a human being and has yielded exponentially better medical results than ESCR.
In an article posted in May 2013, John Stonestreet, co-host of BreakPoint Radio, wrote, “Tragically, the attention given to embryonic stem cells has obscured the far greater therapeutic potential of adult stem cells.” Stonestreet then went on to share about Elizabeth Lobato, a 14-year-old girl who was diagnosed with osteogenesis imperfecta (also known as “brittle bone disease”) when she was only 10 months old. This young lady has experienced tremendous progress through adult stem cells that have strengthened her severely fragile bones.
In a recent article published by NPR, Dr. Micheline Mathews-Roth, MD, associate professor of medicine at Harvard, stated:
I encourage the use of adult stem cells, because no one is killed in the process of obtaining them. Also, since adult stem cells will come from the person needing the transformed cells, they will present no rejection problems, nor do they form teratomas.
Many in the scientific community are excited about the incredible results that have come from studying adult stem cells, and they are optimistic about treating ALS.
Researchers at NeoStem, a biopharmaceutical company led by Robin L. Smith, MD, MBA, believe cures for various diseases will be found in the future through VSELs™, which are “so-called very small embryonic-like stem cells” derived from adults and could be helpful for ALS patients. Dr. Smith’s work led to a cooperative relationship with the Roman Catholic Church, which continues to lead the charge on eliminating abortive embryonic stem cell research in favor of non-abortive forms of cell research.
Rob Wright, editor-in-chief for Life Science Leader Magazine, documented Dr. Smith’s unique approach and remarked:
According to Smith, there is a tremendous amount of confusion between the types of stem cell research being conducted. “If you look at the progress that’s been made over the last 10 years, people really don’t get it,” she states. “They don’t understand how much progress has been made using adult stem cells as the source of cells. Today there are 4,600 adult stem cell trials and only 26 embryonic.”
I wonder why The ALS Association is engaged in embryonic stem cell research when the real progress is being made with adult stem cells?
Q: The ALS Association is currently engaged in only one embryonic stem cell research study. What’s the big deal?
A: We contacted The ALS Association to discuss their embryonic stem cell study, and they merely repeated the information that is already publicly available on their website and related sites. Normally, ESCR is conducted on cells derived from eggs fertilized in vitro. However, the study that ALSA.org is helping to fund uses stem cells derived from a baby aborted at eight weeks.
These stem cells have been engineered from the spinal cord of a single fetus electively aborted after eight weeks of gestation. The tissue was obtained with the mother’s consent. The cells are transplanted into the ALS subject’s spinal cord after laminectomy, an operation that removes bone surrounding the spine.
It’s fairly common for nonprofits to help fund the work of other nonprofits. In this case, The ALS Association is helping to fund the study that is being administered through the University of Michigan. And it’s easy to see the association at the bottom of the webpage where the study leaders acknowledge The ALS Association as a generous sponsor.
As I wrote last week, The ALS Association clearly states it is in favor of embryonic stem cell research and would, under various restrictions, continue to fund and perform these types of studies. Their site says:
Adult stem cell research is important and should be done alongside embryonic stem cell research as both will provide valuable insights. Only through exploration of all types of stem cell research will scientists find the most efficient and effective ways to treat diseases.
The Association acknowledges that embryonic stem cell research “has raised a great deal of ethical questions.”
Yet despite these ethical questions, The ALS Association is currently funding a study using stem cells from a donated aborted fetus, and maintains that ESCR is a necessary research practice. A spokesperson from The Association told American Life League that, “Under very strict guidelines, The Association may fund embryonic stem cell research in the future.”
One of our staff members called the ALS Association and offered to provide a generous donation if they agreed never to fund any more embryonic stem cell research.
They responded, “No, we will never do that.”
Q: The ALS Association said we can donate to them and restrict our dollars from being used for ESCR. Why do you have a concern about that?
A: Consider this: If a mother electively killed her three-year-old daughter and then donated the child’s stem cells to The ALS Association for research purposes, would you be okay with donating money to them — even if they told you your money wouldn’t fund that particular study?
In addition, if The ALS Association said it would, under very strict guidelines, fund research studies on other electively killed three-year-olds in the future, would you still be okay with donating money to them?
Abortion happens high on the ladder of abstraction. We use words like embryo, fetus, procedure, extraction, etc. to describe the killing of a human being. But when we humanize the death of a three-year-old girl, our thoughts take a different turn. We are horrified at the thought of a research firm using electively killed toddlers for medical research. At least we should be.
“But, Brian, an eight-day-old embryo and a three-year-old toddler are two very different things. Your example is extreme.”
If that is your conclusion, then you aren’t pro-life. The central essence of being pro-life is based on one fact: Life is priceless and precious from conception through natural death. If we’re disturbed by the thought of using the cells of an unjustly killed three-year-old girl for medical research, but we aren’t disturbed by the notion of research being done on an embryo that ultimately kills that embryo, then we are falling for the same lie our culture believes: Human life is worth less before birth than after.
The life of an eight-day-old embryo has the same value as a three-year-old toddler. That is why I object to donating to The ALS Association. By accepting donated stem cells from a mother who aborted her child and by acknowledging they would do it again, they are tacitly approving of the killing. The same would be true if they used in vitro embryos. In vitro embryos are as human as you and I, and killing them for medical purposes is heinous, utilitarian, and demeaning to the human race.
Q: But where does it stop? Thousands of companies directly or indirectly support abortion, pornography, or a host of other evil ventures. Do we just stop buying, donating, engaging in business, or functioning?
A: In the case of The ALS Association, there is a direct link between them and embryonic stem cell research. They fund it and publicly support the practice. I have similar strong concerns with the Susan G. Komen Foundation, which has a direct financial link to Planned Parenthood, the largest abortion provider in the United States.
You could make the case that we shouldn’t shop at any retail store that sells pornography, eat at any fast-food restaurant that engages in political activities we disagree with, or shop at malls that advertise provocative clothing. There is a point where we simply couldn’t function because our overly sexualized culture of death is pervasive.
Our decisions regarding where to spend and donate our money should be bathed in prayer, and they are also a matter of conscience. I personally won’t donate money to or support The ALS Association or Susan G. Komen Foundation because of their direct, public support of killing unborn children. However, I still desperately want ALS and breast cancer to be cured, so we must look for other ways to reach those goals.
Q: What can we do to help?
A: I mentioned in my email that calling and writing to The ALS Association and professionally, politely requesting that they stop the ESCR study and publicly commit to never doing it again is the best first step. Though the Ice Bucket Challenge is benefiting several ALS research groups, the ALS Association is the largest beneficiary and is the current face of the ALS research effort.
Try emailing their public policy department at firstname.lastname@example.org, or give them a call at 202-407-8580. We want The ALS Association to help cure ALS. We want them to succeed. But we also want them to do so ethically and morally, and we can’t tolerate the killing of unborn human beings simply for the sake of a possible cure for other human beings.
If you’re looking for other organizations to support, consider those listed below. This is not an exhaustive list — and I encourage you to do your own research before donating to any organization — but here are just a few suggestions:
- The John Paul II Medical Research Institute clearly states its goals to eradicate serious illnesses, including ALS, without embryonic stem cell research.
David Prentice from the Family Research Council made a few other suggestions:
- The Midwest Stem Cell Therapy Center at the University of Kansas Medical Center is a new effort, but only engages in adult and nonembryonic stem cell research.
- The Mayo Clinic has an ongoing clinical trial for ALS patients with adult stem cells.
If you have a desire to take the Ice Bucket Challenge and then donate money to help those struggling with ALS, by all means do so. Consider mentioning on your video that you want a cure to be found, but will be donating your funds to research organizations that do not support embryonic stem cell research. Why not use this as an opportunity to give generously AND educate your friends?
Thanks for taking the time to write to us with your encouragement, gratitude, and great questions. We live in a world of a lot of complexities, but abortion is not complex. Human life is priceless at every stage — let’s continue to work together to protect each and every human being while we seek to cure diseases that steal our loved ones from us.