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Public support is dependent upon health benefits

10 May 2004
By Juliet Tizzard
Director, Progress Educational Trust
Appeared in BioNews 257
Saviour siblings are back in the news. Two developments from the United States show that not only is PGD (preimplantation genetic diagnosis) and tissue typing being used successfully by more and more couples, but also that the majority of Americans support such a use of the technology.

According to a survey conducted by the Genetics and Public Policy Center, 61 per cent of those surveyed support the use of PGD to help an ailing sibling, while 33 per cent oppose it. The same survey revealed that 57 per cent of respondents oppose the use of PGD for social sex selection. Centre director, Dr Kathy Hudson, interpreted the findings as demonstrating general support for technologies which promote health rather than individual preference: 'There is strong support for using these technologies when there is a health benefit, even when that benefit is for another person.' Dr Hudson was keen to stress that most Americans do not want see a free-for-all. 'This support coexists with deep-seated worries about where all these new technologies may be taking us,' she continued. Eighty percent of those surveyed want to see regulation too control reproductive technology.

From this survey, it seems clear that health benefit - rather than the idea of choice - is the determining factor in public support for reproductive genetics. This correlates with early attitudes towardsIVF, which changed from hostility to support as more and more couples talked publicly about their inability to conceive and more and more babies were born through IVF treatment. Once the public can see a group of people who could obviously benefit from a new treatment, support for that treatment seems to grow and grow.

Does this health benefit factor work in areas such as embryonic stem cell research and therapeutic cloning, which are causing so much political strife in the United States? Public attitude surveys carried out to date are a little conflicting (depending upon who conducts them), but the idea that research could lead to new treatments for many common diseases is very important to many Americans. With scientific and political opinion building up against the Bush administration's anti-embryo research policy, it is a view which the president perhaps needs to take more seriously.

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