Ice Bucket Challenge Ethics

Ice Bucket Challenge

The “Ice Bucket Challenge” is a silly, brilliant fund-raising device that has simultaneously increased public awareness of Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, brought over 14 million more dollars of donated funds into the ALS Association than last year for research, and provided some priceless YouTube fare, ranging from celebrity drenchings to this…

Entertainment! Celebrities! Medical research! Charity! Public Education! How could there be anything unethical about such a phenomenon? Well, ethics often throw cold water on all manner of activities human beings crave, so it should not be too great a surprise that the “Ice Bucket Challenge” has generated quite a few ethics-based objections. Let’s examine the potential, alleged and actual ethical flaws of the current fad, and rate them on an Ethics Foul Scale from zero (No ethical concerns at all) to ten ( Very Unethical).

1. It’s dangerous.

Anything can be dangerous if you are not sufficiently careful, and the Ice Bucket Challenge had its consequentialist moment when four firefighters were injured, one very seriously, trying to help the marching band at Campbellsville University get dumped with ice water this week. Two firefighters were in the bucket of their truck’s ladder preparing to douse the students using a firehose when a surge of electricity jumped from nearby power lines and electrucuted them and two colleagues. This was just a freak accident, however. Unlike the so-called Facebook Fire Challenge, the ALS fundraisng stunt shouldn’t be perilous to anyone, as long as practitioners don’t get too grandiose or creative.

Ethics Foul Score:


2. It wastes water.

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Unappetizing Spam Of The Day

Ethics Alarms gets about two times as many spam comments as real ones, most of which I can discard without a second’s thought. Occasionally one brings me up short, however, like this one. If it’s not spam, the blog is being followed by some very strange people. The comment was:

“Thanks for the post. I am always looking for ways to improve my gardening and cooking skills. My family loves eating real food.’

The post it was in response to is… “Unavoidable Bias in the Embryonic Stem Cell Research Controversy.”


Unavoidable Bias in the Embryonic Stem Cell Research Controversy

In the embryonic stem cell research ethics debate, I come out on the “pro” side. Nonetheless, a New York Times article this morning shows clearly how thoroughly and unavoidably biased scientists and researchers in the field are, leading to the conclusion that the decision whether stem cell research is ethical or not, and whether, or to what extent, it should be permitted, cannot be left to them.

The article, by Amy Harmon, begins,

“Rushing to work at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center one recent morning, Jason Spence, 33, grabbed a moment during breakfast to type “stem cells” into Google and click for the last 24 hours of news. It is a routine he has performed daily in the six weeks since a Federal District Court ruling put the future of his research in jeopardy. “It’s always at the front of my brain when I wake up,” said Dr. Spence, who has spent four years training to turn stem cells derived from human embryos into pancreatic tissue in the hope of helping diabetes patients. “You have this career plan to do all of this research, and the thought that they could just shut it off is pretty nerve-racking.” Continue reading