The Catholic Diocese of Richmond is encouraging area parishes and schools to divert donations to medical research related to the ALS Association Ice Bucket Challenge to entities that do not support embryonic stem cell research.
A letter to 146 parishes Tuesday urged Catholics to donate instead to John Paul II Medical Research Institute if they participate in the challenge.
The diocese also sent a reminder of its policy related to the controversial research to the 29 Catholic schools in its jurisdiction last week.
“Because it involves the destruction of human life, embryonic stem cell research is contrary to the moral teaching of the Catholic Church, which upholds the dignity of human life at every stage of development,” the diocese said in the statement to parishes.
An embryo must be destroyed before stem cells can be obtained. Catholic teaching likens the process to abortion.
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The John Paul II Medical Research Institute website says it uses adult stem cells for its research, bypassing the ethical controversy.
Most of the studies funded by the ALS Association use adult stem cell research, but the association has acknowledged one study it funds that involves embryonic stem cell research.
Lou Gehrig’s disease, also known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, is a degenerative condition that attacks nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. Those with the disease progressively lose the ability to control their muscles, which leads to paralysis. Most die within five years of diagnosis. There is no known cure.
Diocese spokeswoman Diana Sims Snider said the diocese learned of schools participating in the challenge, in which ice water is poured on someone’s head to raise awareness for ALS research, and wanted to provide the information about the ALS Association. Videos of people having ice water dumped on them have become a social media sensation recently.
“We don’t have a problem with anyone participating in the challenge,” she said. “We just want to make sure that if they are donating as part of the challenge, they know who they are donating to.”
Bon Secours Virginia CEO Peter J. Bernard on Monday participated in the challenge, initiated by the ALS Association, when Sister Anne Marie Mack sought to raise awareness of ALS in honor of her brother, who died of the disease three years ago.
Bon Secours Virginia operates hospitals, free-standing emergency centers, imaging and surgery centers and urgent care and other physician practices in the Richmond region and in Hampton Roads. Its Richmond-area hospitals are St. Francis Medical Center, Memorial Regional Medical Center and Richmond Community and St. Mary’s hospitals.
The hospital system said it does not track employee donations, but Bon Secours Virginia as an entity has not donated to the ALS Association.
Bernard “emphasized that (Mack) wanted to both remember her brother and build awareness,” the statement said.
The ALS Association had raised $88.5 million as of Tuesday since the campaign was launched July 29. The association raised $2.6 million during the same 29 days last year.
Lkebede@timesdispatch.com (804) 649-6243 Twitter: @kebedefaith