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Most US adults support ES cell research, poll finds

11 July 2005
By BioNews
Appeared in BioNews 316

A new poll reveals that 63 per cent of Americans think the US should adopt a national policy for medical research using human embryonic stem cells (ES cells), while 57 per cent support the use of federal funds for such work. The survey, carried out by Research!America, also found that 59 per cent think that research into therapeutic cloning - the use of cloning techniques to create new, tissue-matched cell therapies for a range of diseases - should be allowed. The poll results come as the Senate prepares to vote on a bill that would expand federal funding for ES cell research.

President Bush's policy on human ES cell research permits federally funded scientists to carry out research on cell lines created before 9 August 2001, but researchers have complained that this policy leaves only less effective cell lines for them to work on. A bill loosening the restrictions was passed by the House of Representatives in May, by 238 votes to 194. If passed by the Senate, the bill would allow federal funds to be used for research on new ES cell lines derived from embryos left over from fertility treatments and voluntarily donated by patients. However, President Bush has vowed to veto the bill, unless it is passed with the minimum two-thirds majority required to override such a veto.

Mary Woolley, the president and chief executive of Research!America, said she hoped the poll results, obtained from 1000 adults, would sway President Bush. 'I think we have a president that does pay attention to public opinion', she told United Press International. However, opponents of ES cell research have said the poll may be inaccurate, due to the terminology and phrasing of the questions. Gene Tarne, of the Washington-based pressure group Do No Harm, said there was 'far less support' for this type of research than the poll suggested. He said the questions did not mention embryos, or state that embryos would be destroyed to derive ES cells.

The poll also revealed that the US public are worried about the US falling behind other countries carrying out ES cell research, such as South Korea and the UK. Around 95 per cent of the respondents said it was important for the US to remain a world leader in medical research, with 60 per cent favouring the expansion of ES cell research. A measure of the public interest in this topic was provided by the finding that 45 per cent said they were following the stem cell debate 'somewhat closely', with 17 per cent following it 'very closely'.

Several US states are enacting their own legislation on ES cell research, with New Jersey and others set to join California in providing state funds for this work. In Ohio last week, Governor Bob Taft vetoed a provision in the state's two-year $51 billion budget that would have prevented funds from the 'Third Frontier' high-tech initiative being used for ES cell research. In vetoing the ban, Taft said that it was more restrictive than President Bush's current ES cell policy. Democrat Senator Eric Fingerhut welcomed the move, saying 'it is vital that Ohio keeps its doors open to this cutting-edge research'.

SOURCES & REFERENCES
America Poll Finds Majority of Americans are in Favor of Embryonic Stem Cell Research
Yahoo Daily News |  7 July 2005
Ohio Gov. Vetoes Stem Cell Funding Ban
The Washington Post |  30 June 2005
Survey: Majority back stem-cell research
ScienceDaily |  7 July 2005
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