FAQ: Guidelines on Giving to Charitable Organizations
(1) What is the issue?
Some charitable organizations (such as Susan G. Komen) give a small portion of their funds to other organizations such as Planned Parenthood or, in the case of the MS Society, give money to support embryonic stem cell research. Giving money to these charitable organizations (e.g., Komen or the MS Society) may mean supporting in some small way the destruction of young human life. How, if at all, can a person of good will give to these organizations wanting to support the good that they do without supporting the evil?
(2) Does the charitable organization in fact give a portion of its income to Planned Parenthood?
Some charitable organizations are franchised meaning that they operate somewhat independently from the national organization. The separate chapters of these organizations may have different policies or contracts with other organizations. So, one may find that one chapter of Susan G. Komen has a relationship with a local Planned Parenthood office, and another chapter might not. It is important to know whether the organization to which you plan to give has chapters and what relationship that chapter has with other organizations.
(3) If, in fact, a portion of one’s contribution is donated to a Planned Parenthood site, then what is the donation for?
Some charitable organizations or their chapters will give a small portion of their funds to Planned Parenthood, but will earmark or specify those funds for one of the few morally legitimate projects Planned Parenthood carries out. For example, Planned Parenthood has been known to offer free breast screening exams to poor women for the purposes of detecting early signs of breast cancer. And these exams have been subsidized by the local Susan G. Komen chapter. But since Planned Parenthood has among its basic purposes contraception and the destruction of unborn children, even a morally legitimate project sandwiched in between the many immoral ones still requires a strong reason to support it. The next question gives guidance on what such a reason may be.
(4) Are there other organizations that are offering, for example, free breast screening exams that do not contribute in such radical ways to the culture of death?
If Planned Parenthood is really the only organization in your area that is performing such screening measures, then it may be permissible to give to a Susan G. Komen which, in turn, gives a small portion of its income to Planned Parenthood for breast screening exams. We say it may be permissible because there are two opposing arguments in this regard.
- One can argue that it is permissible because the donation is not for an abortion, but is earmarked for breast screening exams. Additionally, it is important to note that the person giving to Komen, for example, would be giving to Komen. The donation is to Komen to support Komen’s activities. If Komen decides to direct your donation to Planned Parenthood for the purposes of covering breast screening exams, then that is an action they take, and does not ‘fall back on’, so to speak, the donor – i.e., the donor is not responsible for that act of giving to Planned Parenthood. As such, the donor cannot be implicated in anything evil that Planned Parenthood does.
- A different argument will point out that Planned Parenthood has as one of its fundamental missions the destruction of innocent human life in his or her most vulnerable stages of development in the mother’s womb. This is clearly reprehensible. Additionally, Planned Parenthood promotes abortion worldwide. A moral analysis of one’s potential donation making its way into such an organization needs to take into account the organization’s mission not just the discrete activities the organization performs – some of which may be legitimate. The Catholic Catechism even says that one cannot cooperate in the evil actions of an institution if the institution acts contrary to “divine goodness” (n. 1869). Having one’s money end up in such an institution as Planned Parenthood, even if for a specific and morally legitimate purpose, is still supporting the institution. And as such, is cooperating in evil. If there are other charitable giving options that contribute to an equally important good and are free of the association with Planned Parenthood, then one should give to these other organizations instead.
*In either case, one can avoid immoral cooperation in giving to Komen-like organizations by restricting one’s donation for a specific purpose. By law, the organization must comply with such requests. In doing so, one’s donation remains exclusively for the legitimate purpose and cannot be transmitted to other institutions or used for other purposes.
(5) What is the issue concerning organizations that support scientific research?
Some charitable organizations support research on human embryonic stem cells. Embryonic stem cells are “derived” from human embryos, which means that young human beings are destroyed and their cells are cultured to create what is called a cell line. This cell line is made up of stem cells that can be used for scientific and medical research. Embryonic stem cells, then, are typically derived from young human beings who have been killed. Consequently, embryonic stem cell research is connected to the destruction of young human beings either causing it, or benefiting from past destruction. There are ways to derive embryonic-like stem cells or cell lines. So called induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) are basically adult cells that have been reprogrammed “back” to a state where they can then be coaxed into forming other kinds of cells. IPSCs do not involve killing young human beings. Furthermore, there are other sources of stem cells that are plastic or malleable in ways that can be therapeutically potent. These sources come from adult tissue or umbilical cord blood. These latter sources pose little ethical concern. It is important then to know what the source of the stem cells is (embryonic, iPSC, or adult).
(6) If the organization is supporting research that destroys human embryos to procure the stem cells, may I donate to this organization?
The answer is no. By donating to a research institute or drug manufacturer that funds research that destroys human beings, one would be cooperating immorally in the act of destroying young human life. Cooperating in an intrinsic evil is itself an intrinsic evil and should be avoided in all circumstances.
(7) If the organization supports research on embryonic stem cell lines that have already been derived from other sources and thus no human beings will be destroyed, may I donate to this organization?
- The answer is no. Although one is not directly cooperating in the destruction of young human lives, there are at least two other sources of immorality if one were to give to such an organization. First, if the organization is not itself “deriving” the embryonic stem cell line but is having another organization do the immoral work and then purchases these lines, then one is still contributing to the destruction of young human life – only one more step removed. Even so, such cooperation in the destruction of young human life should be avoided even though it is mediated by another organization. Second, even if the organization is not purchasing embryonic stem cell lines from someone else who does the immoral work, the contribution to embryonic stem cell research in itself contributes to a certain culture, attitude, or moral ethos. The ethos or attitude fueled by such contributions is that this research should continue, that it is permissible to benefit from the killing of young human beings, and that even though there are some people who have moral qualms about it they are not convicted enough to reject the entire enterprise. Fostering such attitudes is harmful and counterproductive to the pro-life cause and to the task of fostering a culture of charity towards every member of the human family – especially the most vulnerable. The latest instruction from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith Dignitas Personae outlines this reasoning well in the following passage:
When the illicit action [destruction of young human beings] is endorsed by the laws which regulate healthcare and scientific research, it is necessary to distance oneself from the evil aspects of that system in order not to give the impression of a certain toleration or tacit acceptance of actions which are gravely unjust. Any appearance of acceptance would in fact contribute to the growing indifference to, if not the approval of, such actions in certain medical and political circles.1
(8) If the organization supports research on stem cell lines that do not involve the destruction of human life either in collusion with other organizations or by itself, may I donate to such an organization?
The answer is maybe. If the organization conducts embryonic stem cell research but had not colluded with the organization that destroyed the embryos to obtain the cells and did not intend or desire their (for example, research on a cell line derived from an embryonic stem cell) a contribution might be morally licit. However, it should still be discouraged because of the risk of scandal. The ethical worry that one would be contributing to an ethos or attitude that is harmful to the pro-life cause still remains. Since research on adult stem cells, cord blood stem cells, and induced pluripotent stem cells promise the same or better scientific results than embryonic stem cell research does, one should donate to organizations or research institutes that support the former kind of research.
1 Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Dignitas personae (September 8, 2008), (Boston, MA.: Daughters of St. Paul, 2008), n. 35 emphasis added.