Today, an authoritative article was published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) that included some of the most comprehensive polling of attitudes in the U.S. and around the world on embryonic stem cell (ESC) research. Their findings indicate very widespread and deep support for ESC research around the globe including in the U.S. and including amongst the relatively most religious amongst us in the U.S.
One of the most important findings of the polling was that a majority, 52% of Republicans favors medical research involving ES cells. Yep, you read that correctly. So why are most of the Republican candidates for U.S. President spouting anti-ES cell rhetoric? Most likely it is their caving into the most extreme members of their party and/or the Tea Partiers who have gone astray from just advocating fiscal “responsibility” and are also pushing for social extremism. For reference 67% of Democrats support ES cell research.
Stem cell research is one of those areas that polls seem to be all over the place. A lot depends on who is asking the question, how the question is phrased, and how people are chosen to participate in the polls. While, most polls on ESC research in the U.S. would seem to indicate that most Americans support ES cell research even Republicans and people are highly religious, there still has been argument about this area.
Today’s article in the NEJM (including polling from the respected Robert Wood Johnson Foundation) is the most convincing and thorough polling I’ve seen that suggest that opponents of ESC research are out of the mainstream.
Some of the highlights of the polling include the fact that 62% of Americans believe that ES cell research is morally acceptable. That’s almost 2/3. Only 30% were opposed. A majority of 55% of Americans goes further and say that the U.S. government should providing funding for this research indicating a higher level of commitment.
Citizens of European countries generally were also supportive of ES cell research, but not quite to the same level as Americans. While not completely uniform, an interesting trend was that Northern and Western Europeans were trending towards being more supportive while the further South and East you go, there was less support. Iceland was the most supportive at a remarkable 71% with Norway, Sweden, Britain, Netherlands, Belgium, and Czech Republic all above 60% support for ES cell research. Many countries were evenly divided, while Greece, Bulgaria, Luxembourg, Turkey, Romania, and Austria (lowest at 33%) each were more opposed to ES cell research with support levels at less than 40%. Based on the overall population in Europe, this results indicate that most Europeans are supportive of ES cell research!
What about if one stratifies people based on level of religiosity?
The results indicate a trend toward the most religious people (as measured by frequent attendance at services) being less supportive of ES cell research in both Europe and the U.S. However, interestingly, in the U.S. even amongst the most religious folks more people supported ES cell research than opposed it! That’s quite important. Of those most highly religious people, 50% said do not forbid ES cell research, while only 40% said forbid it. In Europe, it was the other way as 49% of the most religious people said to forbid ES cell research, while only 36% said do not. So there is a clear difference between the U.S. and Europe, but intriguingly the U.S. is more supportive of ES cell research despite the very vocal minority in the U.S. who would have us believe that most Americans are against ES cell research.
So to sum up, the good news is that most people of Europe and the U.S. support potentially life-saving ES cell research.