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UK public surveyed on embryos, cloning and more

31 August 2005
By BioNews
Appeared in BioNews 324

A survey that asked 2432 members of the UK public about its attitudes to current ethical and moral issues in medicine shows that most are in favour of some embryo and stem cell research, but draw the line at human reproductive cloning. It also shows that people think the time limit for legal abortions should be reduced and that assisted suicide for the terminally ill should be allowed.

Sixty per cent of the people surveyed in the YouGov poll for the Daily Telegraph newspaper said that they did not feel well enough informed about the issues raised by cloning and stem cell research to be able to make judgements. However, 79 per cent said that the use of cloned embryo stem cells to treat serious or life-threatening disease or conditions - such as cancer, heart disease, Parkinson's disease and arthritis - is acceptable. But six per cent wanted this research on embryos to be restricted to diseases that threaten children's lives only. Thirty per cent of respondents said they would allow infertile couples to use reproductive cloning in order to have children, but 60 per cent were totally opposed to any reproductive cloning, either 'in the foreseeable future' or 'ever'.

Sixty-eight per cent said that the use of embryos left over from fertility treatments for medical research purposes was acceptable and 41 per cent would allow the creation of embryos solely for research purposes. The pollsters had explained to participants that UK scientists are already permitted to carry out experiments on embryos for a range of purposes up to 14 days development. Only 16 per cent held the view that an embryo was a person from the moment of conception, and should therefore receive the same protection as new-born babies.

On the issue of germlinegene therapy, 43 per cent said that doctors should be allowed to alter the genetic make-up of a child before birth, but only to prevent a serious genetic disorder. Seventy-seven per cent said that couples should not be able to select the sex of their baby, while only 14 per cent said this should be allowed. Fifty-eight per cent approved of the use of IVF technology to create 'saviour siblings'.

Anthony King, professor of government at Essex University, who analysed the results for the Daily Telegraph, said that the UK public seem to be mainly against 'casual and cosmetic' uses of new technologies. However, the campaign in America against research on embryos and in particular embryonic stem cell (EScell) research 'finds almost no echo in this country', he said.

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