A.L.S. Ice Bucket Challenge Brings on Controversy


Apparently dumping water on your head is controversial

Little bit of ice on the President’s head? Priceless./Laura Billett

Little bit of ice on the President’s head? Priceless./Laura Billett

Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (A.L.S.), or Lou Gherig’s disease, is a neurodegenerative disorder that causes muscle wasting, leading to loss of motor control, but not loss of cognitive function or often even of sensation. Unless genetically linked, the cause of A.L.S. is unknown, and there is no effective treatment.

A.L.S., like any life-threatening disease, is terrifying and tragic. This summer, A.L.S. became one of the most popular acronyms in the news and on social media for a more hopeful reason: the A.L.S. Ice Bucket Challenge. You would be living under a rock if you haven’t heard of the A.L.S. Ice Bucket Challenge by now. You would also have to be pretty ignorant to not be aware of the controversy the Ice Bucket Challenge has stirred up.

So, what is the deal with the A.L.S. Ice Bucket Challenge? If you already have an opinion on this, I’m unlikely to sway your stubborn mind, but if you are riding the waves of the controversy, waiting to see who says ‘What’s next?’ I hope I can shed some light on why everyone needs to chill out and be happy with some of the good that’s in this world.

Countless celebrities have taken up the challenge, with varying motivations and successes. Kim Kardashian recently took narcissism to a whole new level when she took a selfie while completing the challenge on national television, whereas Matt Damon used the opportunity to raise awareness about the world’s clean water crisis and dumped freezing toilet water on his head.

Regardless, participation has been extraordinary, and the fundraising has been incredible. The A.L.S. Association reportedly raised over $100 million as compared to the $2.8 million they raised in the same time span last year. A.L.S. Canada did well in a comparatively modest Canadian way, raising over $13 million, surpassing their $10 million goal.

Still, not everyone is happy with the explosive success of the A.L.S. Ice Bucket Challenge. Check your Facebook feed and there is bound to be someone posting something against the challenge because of the waste of water or the lower percentage of people who are affected by A.L.S. as compared to cancer or heart disease.

“Those are real issues, absolute issues. I think they need to be profiled and they need to supported, but that is different than this particular one,” says University of Regina President Vianne Timmons, who participated in the challenge this summer.

When you are profiling one cause, it does not imply that you are diminishing other causes or even competing with other causes to be the most “worthy” of donation. Sometimes, it would be helpful to step back from the temptation of criticism and look at the good impact such initiatives have.

The A.L.S. Ice Bucket Challenge is not without its darker side; however, there are substantially greater things that can come out of this campaign, like a cure or symptom-delaying treatment. Cancer, heart disease, and whatever you choose to advocate for are all worthwhile and important issues, but A.L.S. differs greatly from these diseases that are often caused by unhealthy lifestyles because it has an unknown, thus unpreventable, cause.

“One of the challenges with A.L.S. is that it is so severe, so quick, and so devastating to the family. … A.L.S is a debilitating condition and this [Ice Bucket] Challenge has definitely made people aware of it and aware of the need to support funding, in particular, [for] research,” says Timmons. “So many people I saw doing it did it for people they knew that died. 90 per cent die within two years, 95 per cent die within five years. It is a very quick and devastating condition, and I think that more awareness about it is really good.”

On Wikipedia’s A.L.S. Ice Bucket Challenge webpage, it is reported that the A.L.S. Wikipedia page’s hits increased from a daily average of 8,000 hits to a peak of over 430,000 hits on Aug.21.

This isn’t solely a fun challenge. The A.L.S. Ice Bucket Challenge has caused a major increase in both fundraising and awareness, which we can only hope will lead to breakthroughs in research that wouldn’t have been possible without the funding and momentum caused by increased awareness.

When big social media campaigns erupt like the Ice Bucket Challenge did, a lot of people forget about the people who are on the receiving end of the research. For many, like Timmons, the challenge is personal.

“I participated in the challenge because I have a brother-in-law with Lou Gherig’s Disease, A.L.S, and I’ve seen the impact on his family. It’s my baby sister, and I am very close to them, so any opportunity to profile A.L.S or raise money is a very personal thing for me,” says Timmons.

When you see the impact the disease has on families, on healthy people, and on people’s daily lives, there is no denying the good of the Ice Bucket Challenge. However, the controversy surrounding the A.L.S Ice Bucket Challenge raises some deeper concerns surrounding the purpose and the efficiencies of charities in general. Benjamin Hognestad, a law student at Osgoode Hall, voiced his concerns with the purpose of charity when asked about the Ice Bucket Challenge.

“’Charity’ is just giving money to whatever you want, and picking and choosing is not going to solve the [world’s] problems,” Hognestad says.

Extending the issue of charity onto the bigger picture, Hognestad argues that donations are unlikely to make changes. “Instead, if people want to fix poverty, cure illness, and make the world a better place, voting and political activism is the only way to make big changes. Changing policies and funding allocations so they target social programs will help eradicate poverty, illness, disease, and help fund research that can save lives,” says Hognestad. “That’s the only way that [we] can actually address everybody.”

For those of us who saw the A.L.S. Ice Bucket Challenge as a fairly focused campaign, Hognestad may be ahead of all of us in his vision of a better place, but he has a good point. The A.L.S. Ice Bucket Challenge has done real and valuable good. I am happy with and proud of the many, many people who donated money, got dumped with, or even dumped themselves with ice-cold water, but all this controversy exists for a reason.

While not discounting the good that this campaign has done for those affected by A.L.S., this discourse is what leads us to continue to find better ways to try to fix our problems, be they poverty, disease, or clean water.

“We need to check some of these warm fuzzies about how great humanity is until we do a heck of a lot more,” Says Hognestad.

So get real everybody. It is possible to recognize the great things that the A.L.S. Ice Bucket Challenge has done, and will do, for those with A.L.S. and their families, while at the same time, to work towards solving other problems in the world. Pick your battles if you must, but don’t forget that just because you aren’t fighting one, it doesn’t mean others aren’t on its front lines.

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