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Majority of Americans support human genome editing, poll finds

30 July 2018
Appeared in BioNews 960

Almost three-quarters of Americans support the use of genome editing to treat serious genetic conditions in babies, a survey has found. 

The survey, carried out by the Pew Research Center, gathered responses from 2537 adults in the US. It found that 60 percent were in favour of using genome editing technology, such as CRISPR, to reduce a baby's risk of developing a serious disease during their lifetime. However, not all uses of genome editing were viewed positively, with 80 percent of respondents saying that editing to increase a baby's intelligence was not acceptable.

'As these techniques are continuing to evolve, we see in this survey that public opinion on gene editing on babies really depends on its intended purpose,' Dr Cary Funk, lead author of the survey and the director of science and society research at Pew Research Center told HuffPost. 'Americans of different groups think [enhancing intelligence] is taking the medical technology too far.'

In addition, many American adults had ethical and moral concerns about the development of the technology – 65 percent were against using human embryos to test genome editing. Respondents with strong religious beliefs were the most likely to oppose the use of embryos, and were also more likely to be against using genome editing in any situation. 

People with higher levels of education, scientific knowledge or familiarity with genome editing were more likely to support its use in medicine. A total of 86 percent of respondents who had a high level of scientific knowledge were in favour of using genome editing to treat serious genetic conditions, compared with 58 percent of those who had a low level of scientific knowledge. 

The survey results also showed concern about the potential impact of genome editing on society. Less than 20 percent felt that it was very likely to lead to new medical advances that would benefit society. At the same time, 58 percent of respondents thought that genome editing was very likely only to be available to the wealthy, leading to an increase in inequality. People with a high level of scientific knowledge or familiarity with genome editing were overall more optimistic about societal outcomes. 

There was also a lack of confidence in how well medical researchers understand the health effects of genome editing. Only 36 percent of respondents felt that scientists understood the impacts of genome editing fairly well or very well. 

The survey results echo other recent polls taken in the UK (see BioNews 941) and the US (see BioNews 914), showing increasing public support for therapeutic genome editing. 

15 October 2018 - by Mikey Lebrett 
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23 July 2018 - by Dr Peter Mills 
Judging from the coverage of the latest Nuffield Council on Bioethics report, 'Genome Editing and Human Reproduction: Social and ethical issues', the subject of altering genetic inheritance in humans has become no less incandescent in recent years...
17 July 2018 - by Dr Alexander Ware 
In a new report, the UK's Nuffield Council on Bioethics has concluded that the use of heritable genome editing 'could be ethically acceptable in some circumstances'...
2 July 2018 - by Shaoni Bhattacharya 
Dr Roy Farquharson, chair of the European Society for Human Reproduction and Embryology, spoke exclusively to BioNews ahead of Europe's biggest embryology and reproductive medicine conference, which opened on Sunday 1 July in Barcelona, Spain. With up to 12,000 participants expected, ESHRE's annual conference will be the largest in the society's 34-year history...
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