Most Americans support the use of stem cells to treat such diseases as cancer and heart disease, according to a study published last month in Nature Biotechnology.
Research using human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) has been controversial since its inception, with the recent battle over federal funding of such science refocusing the debate in the public eye. While pundits, lobbyists, and politicians argue that it is unethical due to the fact that it involves the destruction of human embryos, hESC research also holds the potential to treat, or even cure, many life-threatening illnesses. But what does the general public think?
To answer this question, researchers at the University of Nevada, Reno, surveyed more than 2,000 Americans regarding their feelings on stem cells and other controversial research topics. They found that the public was generally supportive of using embryonic stem cells—those derived from therapeutic cloning (nuclear transfer of the patient's own genes) and those extracted from the inner cell mass of spare in vitro fertilization (IVF) embryos—in disease research. Supporters of both techniques outnumbered opponents five to one. The majority of respondents also approved of induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells for treating cancer and heart disease, with more than two thirds expressing support. When asked about the use of stem cells for cosmetic treatments such as restoring youthful skin, however, opponents outnumbered supporters by almost 2 to 1.
In contrast to these data, the US government bans funding for research on therapeutic cloning (though it is approved in the United Kingdom). “In a democratic society, deferring to objections from a small (mainly religious) minority and limiting research that has so much therapeutic promise may well be unethical,” the authors write.