Americans Support Stem Cell Research
Americans Support Stem Cell Research
Virginia Commonwealth University has released the results of its fifth annual “Life Sciences Poll.” Below are the survey highlights as described by the university on its website:
More Americans Favor Embryonic Stem Cell Research; But See More Promise in Research Using Other Sources of Stem Cells
Overall, a majority of Americans—58 percent—now strongly or somewhat favor embryonic stem cell research, up from 53 percent in the 2004 survey and 47 percent in the 2003 survey. Now, only 32 percent strongly or somewhat oppose embryonic stem cell research, down from 36 percent in the 2004 survey and 44 percent in the 2003 survey. Views on embryonic stem cell research continue to be related to views on abortion and religion.
Even with a greater number of Americans saying they support embryonic stem cell research, only 14 percent believe that embryonic stem cell research holds the greatest promise for discovering new treatments for disease, compared to other types of stem cell research. Thirty-seven percent believe that research using stem cells from other sources, such as an umbilical cord, holds the greatest promise, while 7 percent feel that research using adult stem cells holds the greatest promise for disease treatment.
Most Americans Support Use of Stem Cells to Treat Certain Medical Conditions for Themselves or Family Members
When asked if they would support the use of embryonic stem cells in order to pursue treatment for themselves or family members afflicted with a condition such as Parkinson’s Disease or a spinal cord injury, 68 percent said they would, and 17 percent said they would not.
Objections to Human Cloning Remain, with Caveats
The idea of human cloning continues to elicit strong opposition among the American public. Eighty-one percent are either somewhat or strongly opposed to human cloning and most of these are strongly opposed to it. Just 15 percent favor human cloning. These numbers are slightly different than those in the 2004 survey, when 83 percent were opposed to human cloning and 13 percent were in favor, but the difference between last year’s results and this year’s results is not statistically significant.
Less opposition is found for human cloning if it is limited to research for the treatment of disease. This year, 51 percent of those surveyed were opposed to human cloning if it is limited to research for the treatment of disease, and 43 percent are in favor. In the 2004 survey, 56 percent were opposed, while 42 percent were in favor, and in 2003, 48 percent were opposed and 50 percent were in favor. The drop from 56 percent opposed in 2004 to 51 percent opposed this year is mainly due to an increase in the number of “don’t know” responses this year.
If human cloning technology is used to create stem cells for human therapeutic purposes, opposition to cloning increases; 59 percent are opposed to human cloning under these circumstances and 34 percent are in favor. Sixty-eight percent of Americans are either very or somewhat concerned that the use of human cloning technology to create stem cells for human therapeutic purposes will lead to a greater chance of human reproductive cloning.
A summary of the results is also available on prnewswire.com.
So what does this survey mean for stem cell research? I see 2 key points. First, stem cell research must continue in all forms, including embryonic, umbilical cord blood stem cells, and adult stem cells in their various forms. The science is still far too new and untested to know what forms of stem cells hold the greatest promise. I will not be surprised if it turns out that different forms of stem cells work better at treating some diseases than others, or that combining technology and techniques will be necessary for effective treatment of others. For example, it seems that adult stem cells work pretty well for treatments of some conditions, such as heart attacks and liver disease, but neurological illnesses may be better served by treatment with embryonic-derived stem cells since neural cells are so highly specialized.
Second, I think that the scientific community needs to do a lot of work educating people on what “therapeutic cloning” is, and discussions need to be held on a variety of levels and forums. I am a reasonably intelligent and educated layperson with a fairly good grip of general scientific theories, but it was not until I started writing this blog that I really understood how the cloning process works. I suspect many people think that cloning is related significantly to issues of identity and personhood and do not understand SCNT's potential in the lack of an immune system response to the new cells.