February 5, 2014
Americans Excited Over DNA Breakthroughs, But Many Worry About The Implications: Poll
[ Watch the Video: What Do People Really Think About DNA Research? ]
April Flowers for redOrbit.com - Your Universe OnlineA new poll from the Huffington Post and YouGov finds that although most Americans are excited by the possibility of the scientific breakthroughs made possible by DNA research, many of them worry that research could go too far — and the scientists could begin "playing God."
The possibility that DNA research could create major scientific and medical breakthroughs is exciting to most Americans (71 percent). However, 44 percent also worry that DNA research involves dangers that are not well understood or anticipated. Another 33 percent expressed both excitement and trepidation.
The poll was conducted January 16-17, 2014 among 1,000 American adults. The sample was selected from YouGov's opt-in online panel to match the demographics and other characteristics of the adult population of the nation. Factors such as age, race, gender, education, employment, income, marital status, number of children, voter registration, time and location of Internet access, interest in politics, religion and church attendance were all taken into consideration.
HuffPo reports that the results show the public is more optimistic about the possibilities than pessimistic about potential negative effects. The findings also reveal that Americans believe genetic research should have limits.
For example, when asked about the idea of cloning extinct species — like in the Jurassic Park franchise — most said they were against the idea of resurrecting woolly mammoths and other long extinct species by a 55 to 27 percent margin.
Even more disturbing to American respondents is the idea of using genetic research to create "designer babies," with seventy-two percent disapproving of efforts to create children with unusually high intelligence or other advantageous traits. Of all the respondents, only 16 percent approved of designer babies.
The poll also found that most were at least somewhat worried about the possibility of scientists "playing God" by trying to tweak phenomena they think should remain outside the realm of science — with 35 percent being very worried and another 37 percent being somewhat worried. A combined 19 percent said they were not very worried or not at all worried.
This poll is not the first time such concerns have been raised. In 2008, a team of legal, scientific and ethics experts were calling for research guidelines to be established in the search for the human genome. The team, led by Timothy Caulfield from the Health Law Institute at the University of Alberta in Canada, put forward eight key recommendations for developing ethical oversight.
“Yes, these are early days in the field of human-genome research, but research ethics guidance is needed immediately,” said Caulfield. “With how fast this research is growing, it is necessary that we develop carefully considered consensus guidelines to ensure ethical research practices are defined for all.”
The key recommendations include such things as the right for participants to withdraw consent (which includes the destruction of tissue samples and written information); the issues associated with participants’ family members and relevant groups; and the means of obtaining clear consent from participants for possible future use of their genes.
In 2013, the Catholic Church weighed in on the issue as well. At that time, the chairman of the Committee on Pro-Life Activities of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), Cardinal Sean O’Malley, OFM Cap., of Boston, said that human cloning for any reason is inconsistent with moral responsibility. O'Malley was responding specifically to the nose that researchers in Oregon had succeeded in producing cloned human embryos to obtain embryonic stem cells.
“Creating new human lives in the laboratory solely to destroy them is an abuse denounced even by many who do not share the Catholic Church’s convictions on human life,” said Cardinal O’Malley. “Whether used for one purpose or the other, human cloning treats human beings as products, manufactured to order to suit other people’s wishes.” He added, “A technical advance in human cloning is not progress for humanity but its opposite.”
The HuffPo/YouGov poll seems to reflect some of this discomfort in the general public, as well as showing excitement at the possible advances to come.