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NOT ALL WET
Catholic schools determine how
to take part in ALS fundraising effort

By JOANNE FOX, Globe editor
(Email Joanne)

Dawn Prosser wishes she had come up with the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.

The development and marketing director at St. Mary Church in Storm Lake is not alone.

The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, a major fundraising effort that began this summer to raise money to research a cure for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or Lou Gehrig's disease, has left many people scratching their heads.

In a nutshell: The challenge involves dumping a bucket of ice water on someone's head and nominating others to go through the same process within 24 hours or make a donation to the charity of one's choice to support further research to treat and cure ALS. The ALS Association, based in Washington, is the largest organization researching the disease.

The challenge went viral on social media. As of Aug. 26, the ALS Association had received $88.5 million in donations from July 29-Aug. 26 compared to $2.6 million during the same time period a year ago.

“Yes, that’s considerably more than we raised at last year’s Friends of St. Mary Ball,” Prosser quipped.

“I think they were blessed with perfect timing of people wanting an excuse to put themselves on Facebook in the ‘selfie’ era,” she added.

Friends have challenged friends on Facebook and celebrities have joined the fundraising fray.

Now with schools starting their new year, Catholic schools across the country have also considered the challenge. But there has been some hesitation, particularly after reports that the ALS Association, which is researching for a cure for the disease, uses embryonic stem cells in some of its research.

Statements issued

Some dioceses have issued statements urging schools that participate to send donations to other research organizations, such as the John Paul II Medical Research Institute in Iowa City – a 501(c)(3), tax-exempt public charity – which does not use embryonic stem cells in its research.

The Office of Education for the Diocese of Sioux City sent out this statement to the Catholic schools:
“We have received comments and concerns regarding this video challenge. If your school/students do participate, we recommend that you send any funds raised to the John Paul II Medical Research Institute.

“The John Paul II Medical Research Institute is located in Iowa City. It is a secular organization that is grounded in a pro-life bioethic that respects the dignity of every human life.”

Storm Lake St. Mary 6-12 principal Steven Lueck took the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge on Aug. 22. Prosser reported doing the “dousing” honors were high school seniors.

“Steve said he was challenged by a current student at St. Mary’s and an old friend,” she said. “He had read in the Dubuque Archdiocese’s newspaper about the ALS stem cell research and gave to the JPII center in Iowa City instead.”

The response was overwhelming, Prosser noted.

“We put the video on our Facebook page and it was viewed by 2,000 last time I looked,” she said.

The Catholic Church opposes any research involving the destruction of human embryos to create stem cells. Adult stem cells, so called because they are derived from living human beings, also have promising scientific value but do not require destruction of an embryo. The reprogrammed stem cells can sometimes be used to replace damaged cells.

Research questions

Carrie Munk, a spokeswoman for the ALS Association, told Catholic News Service in an Aug. 26 email that the organization primarily funds adult stem cell research and is at the end of funding one single embryonic study, which is funded by one specific donor.

She said that if someone "is uncomfortable with any type of research we do, they can restrict their gift" stipulating that it not be used in the embryonic stem study or any stem cell research.
Chief Executive Officer Jay Kamath explained the John Paul II Medical Research Institute does work on ALS research, but its scope of research is much broader.

“The institute does research in four main areas,” he told The Catholic Mirror of Des Moines. “One of those is neurodegenerative – also called neurological – diseases, which include Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and ALS.”

Thanks to the ALS social media effort, the John Paul II Medical Research Institute has gotten on people’s radar screens, Kamath pointed out.

“The effort has raised awareness within Iowa and the nation of the institute,” he said. “Our website had more than 100,000 hits in just the last two or three days – which, incidentally, crashed our site. We had to improve our server to be able to take all the visits to the site.”

In essence, the institute has received about $20,000 in donations, but Kamath acknowledged the research has benefited in a number of other ways.

“What we have really gotten out of this (is to) let people know we are a better alternative for those who are Catholic or Christian and believe in pro-life values,” he said. “We are thrilled this campaign has started a dialogue where people have started to do a little more due diligence about how research is done.”

Catholic News Service and Anne Marie Cox of The Catholic Mirror, Des Moines, contributed to this story.

Care to donate without the ice bucket?
Who: John Paul II Medical Research Institute
Where: 540 E Jefferson St., Suite 305, Iowa City, IA 52245
Phone: (319) 688-7367
Online: http://www.jp2mri.org/donate-now.htm.
Note: You may ask for your gift to be restricted for ALS research

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