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Ice buckets? Hot peppers? We should do better to cure diseases

Participants pass each other filled buckets for the

Participants pass each other filled buckets for the Ice Bucket Challenge in 2014. Credit: Johnny Milano

Are you familiar with the ALS Pepper Challenge?

Last October, Patty Haberstroh of Westport, Connecticut, was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a progressive disorder that has no cure.

Aware that the Ice Bucket Challenge raised a good deal of money for ALS research in 2014, the Haberstroh family posted a video of themselves eating hot peppers on Christmas, and dared friends to do the same to raise cash for research.

Since then, several celebrities have accepted the challenge, including Shaquille O’Neal, who after chomping down on a hot pepper looked ready to weep. The initial goal of $50,000 was reached in January, and a new goal of $1 million was set. You can learn more about the challenge at

I salute those who participate and donate, but something makes me angry. Why do we have to torture ourselves to get adequate funding to research cures for deadly diseases?

Congressional “pork” projects regularly suck millions from the Treasury on wasteful endeavors. And a recent purchase of two new Air Force One refrigerators will cost taxpayers a mind-boggling $23.6 million.

Shouldn’t ALS and other serious diseases get the funding necessary to maximize research? What are our priorities? The United States could lose its place as the world leader in medical research, with spending down 13 percent from 2004 through 2014.

Will future humans look back at us the way we do Neanderthals? Is this the best we can do — desperately attempting to fund vital health research by dumping buckets of ice water on ourselves or eating burning-hot peppers?

The pepper challenge itself can be dangerous. In 2016, it was reported that a man who ate a superhot ghost pepper in a different contest burned a hole in his esophagus. Meanwhile, ALS sufferers pray for a cure.

“I’m fighting against time here,” Patty Haberstroh told People magazine. “The average life span from diagnosis is three to five years, and I pray those hot pepper eaters are raising enough money to find a cure for me and others before it is too late. It is truly an underfunded disease.”

Maybe it’s time to dump a bucket of ice water on the heads of those in Congress.

Playwright Mike Vogel blogs at