MANILA (Mabuhay) – The wildly viral ALS Ice Bucket Challenge may be for a good cause, but it may have some bioethical issues, the head of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines warned.
In a statement, CBCP president and Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas also reminded Filipinos taking the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge is an act of compassion and not a fad.
“As a pastoral guideline, we therefore urge those participating in the ice-bucket challenge and making donations to ALS research 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,” he said.
He said Catholics who participate in the challenge and who make donations to this research must also demand from organizers an assurance that none of the donations made will be applied to researches that are “ethically reproved.”
But he maintained the Church will push support for such research so long as they “keep within the confines of the ethical demands of human dignity.”
“As long as research on ALS as well as other debilitating conditions such as Parkinson’s Diseases and Alzheimer’s keep within the confines of the ethical demands of human dignity, they will be encouraged by the Church, and our Catholic faithful will be urged to support them with generosity and with charity for all who suffer,” he said.
The ice bucket challenge seeks to boost awareness for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis and to raise funds for research to address it.
As of Aug. 27, the ALS Association said the challenge has raised $94.3 million since July 29.
Villegas cited “disturbing reports” that ALS research involves the use of stem-cells, which may promise to reverse the death and degeneration of brain cells.
But he said stem-cells are most readily harvested from embryos, “and it is in this regard that this type of research is ethically problematic.”
Villegas cited the “Instruction on Respect for Human Life in Its Origin and on the Dignity of Procreation” issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on February 22, 1987.
“It is therefore even more condemnable when embryos are destroyed so that their pluripotent stem cells may be harvested for research for even therapeutic purposes,” he said.
He added it is “no better when embryos are the result of ‘in vitro’ fertilization, developed purposely as a source of stem cells.”
Villegas cited the same Instruction in pointing out human embryos obtained in vitro “are human beings and subjects with rights.”
“Their dignity and right to life must be respected from the first moment of their existence. It is immoral to produce human embryos destined to be exploited as disposable ‘biological material,’” he added.
Villegas also cited a statement from the ALS Association that includes a declaration on stem cell research.
He said the statement indicated most stem-cell research in ALS is currently focused on iPS cells, which are not burdened with ethical issues.
“What is troubling, however, is that the very same ALS statement, in admitting that iPS cells are used in ‘most stem-cell research’ leaves open the possibility that stem cells from objectionable sources are still used!” he said.
Yet, he said the CBCP cannot say at this time that the ALS Association and all those involved in ALS research are engaged in the unethical practice of using embryonic cells.
“The importance of ALS research cannot be overstated. Research must proceed, for so many suffer. Human intelligence and skill must conquer this dreadful malady, because it is for this purpose that we have been given dominion over the earth as its stewards,” he said. (MNS)