Bioethics Blogs

The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge: Doing Good, Even if for the Wrong Reason

Samantha Brennan considers the ethical tensions in the ALS ice bucket challenge.


I haven’t done the ice bucket challenge, though my son, my sister-in-law, and lots of my friends have done it. I come pretty close to being the perfect subject for the challenge: I like charity challenges (I recently took part in the Friends for Life Bike Rally); and, in this case, the cause is close to home for my family. We lost my children’s grandmother, my husband’s mother, to ALS this winter. More recently, a good friend of mine has been diagnosed with ALS. I’ve learned a lot about ALS and death doesn’t seem to be the worst thing about . Rather, it’s living with ALS that’s tough. ALS is an awful disease.

I made my skeptical views about the ice bucket challenge known early on—I’m a philosopher after all, skepticism is what we do best!—and so I escaped getting personally challenged.

Ice-bucket-challengeThere’s lots of criticism of the ice bucket challenge out there—for every bandwagon there is an equal and opposite wave of cold water ready to be thrown over it—and I won’t raise and respond to the full flurry of criticisms here. Is it dangerous and potentially life threatening? Is it wasteful of water? Does it show an utter lack of appreciation of the wonders of ice and the miracle of clean water in a world in which these things are frequently scarce?

There’s lots to fret about, but it’s hard to sustain that fretting in the face of such incredible success.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.