Pro-Lifers: Don’t Support American Cancer Society Relay for Life

Opinion   |   Josh Brahm   |   Apr 1, 2011   |   1:30PM   |   Washington, DC

Its springtime and Relays for Life, the American Cancer Society’s main fundraiser, are happening in cities all across the country over the next several months. It can be difficult for pro-life advocates to decide exactly how involved to be in events like this, as we can all agree that curing cancer is an important goal, even something worth supporting.

Unfortunately the American Cancer Society is not an organization I can support, as they have been linked to organizations that support abortion, human cloning and Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research (HESCR).

A friend of mine and strong pro-life advocate, Clinton, found himself in an awkward situation last week. His Christian band had agreed to play at a Relay For Life not knowing that some of the money goes to HESCR. While meeting with Clinton, this question came up: “which is worse, giving up a ministry opportunity where Christian music could be heard by non-believers, or supporting something contrary to one’s beliefs?”

I responded by offering this analogy:

Imagine you’re in a German Christian band in 1941. You’ve happily agreed to play at a rally in support of research and treatments for hypothermia. It sounds like an important cause, raising money to treat a condition that plagues many people around the world every year. However, a few days before the event you learn that a portion of the money raised at the rally will be sent to support the research of Dr. Rascher at the Dachau concentration camp. Dr. Rascher conducted human experiments on Jews, for the purpose of creating treatments for hypothermia, an issue Nazi soldiers were struggling with on the Eastern front. One study forced subjects to endure a tank of ice water for up to five hours. Another study placed prisoners naked in the open air for several hours with temperatures as low as 21°F. Approximately 100 people are reported to have died as a result of these experiments. Would you still play at the rally?

Clinton agreed it was a fair analogy to HESCR, and didn’t want to play at Relay for Life. However, his band leader had made the counter-argument that the band isn’t actually donating money to the ACS. They were just going to be there, playing Christian music. That’s not as bad, right?

I responded that he would have to make the judgment call of whether the band could be seen as implicitly supporting the rally. I explained that I’m willing to speak at events where I don’t agree with all of the beliefs held by the organization hiring me, because by taking a speaking gig, I’m not implicitly endorsing them. On the contrary, I’m the one being endorsed by the event leaders. However, if I have someone on my pro-life podcast, I may be seen as implicitly endorsing their views.

Clinton decided not to play at the Relay for Life rally, and I think he made the right decision. It would be especially confusing for Christians to see a Christian band at the rally, furthering their false assumption that the rally is only raising money for ethical research.

So what does this have to do with you? “I’m not in a Christian band,” you reply. This may be true, but the underlying principles are the same for a pro-life advocate who is asked to donate money to a Relay For Life. I think this is a great opportunity for you to kindly respond that while you believe research to cure cancer is very important, this particular organization also funds experimentation on human embryos, thus you can’t in good conscience donate money to them.

If human embryos are just as human as you or me, than the Dachau analogy is a fair one, except that embryos don’t feel pain when they’re experimented on or killed. This doesn’t affect the moral equation much though, as what Dr. Rascher did would have still been considered a heinous human rights violation even if he anesthetized the Jews before using them for unethical experiments.

“But,” your ACS-supporting friend objects, “that’s different! The embryos used in stem cell research aren’t human, are they?”

And that is the start of a great conversation. Note: Josh Braham is the Director of Education at Right to Life of Central California’s Fresno/Madera office, and host of the netcast “Life Report: Pro-Life Talk | Real World Answers.” Get more of Josh’s unique perspectives on pro-life topics at