Results from a new survey about stem-cell science were released last week, just as we prepared to publish an SN&R cover story on the same subject. Johns Hopkins University’s Genetics and Public Policy Center made headlines across the country for finding that a genuinely wide swath of Americans supports research using embryonic stem cells.
The survey (which was made public a few weeks from the one-year anniversary of California’s vote last November to create the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, or CIRM) is important. That’s because it flies against the public perception that Americans are sharply divided on the stem-cell issue—say, as polarized as they are on topics like abortion or capital punishment.
Turns out that’s a myth, a mirage.
Regardless of religion, age or education level, a full 67 percent of those polled either approve or “strongly approve” of embryonic stem-cell research. And only a sliver—22 percent of the 2,212 polled—support President Bush’s restrictive policy of only allowing research to be conducted using a limited number of embryonic stem-cell lines.
What’s behind this public endorsement?
Simply, it’s the hope for cures.
As reporter Ralph Brave points out in “Stem cell wonderland,” most regular people really aren’t paying attention to the stem-cell subject for reasons related to red or blue, politics or religion.
Their interest is much more direct—and profound.
They want to know when the promised cures will be delivered. Almost everybody has experienced the death or illness of a loved one who they think might have been spared from cures that someday may flow from stem-cell research.
As Brave’s story brings to light, the tension—between the public’s high hopes for cures and the scientists’ giant challenge to make headway—remains crucial as CIRM and its work proceed.
How close are we to cures? Perhaps, at least, a bit closer than we were on election’s eve last November.