If you read the mainstream press, you would be forgiven for believing that America is besotted with science, that only half-crazed, pro-life "extremists" have any doubts about the miracle cures that will spring any moment from embryonic stem-cell research, and that "therapeutic cloning" is the technology of the future.

According to a new opinion poll conducted by Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU), you would be very wrong. Polling, of course, depends a lot on the questions you ask. So you may have seen polls quoted this way and that on these key issues. The VCU poll is generally fair. It does not bend over in either direction, and while we may wish some of the questions had been asked a little differently, its results are clear enough to turn upside down many of the assumptions of advocates for destroying embryos for research or for "therapy." Americans are much more level-headed than many editorial boards and certainly than many members of Congress.

Some of these results are so astonishing that you may not believe them—but they follow closely the results of earlier polling by VCU, so they can't be dismissed as accident and error. For example, how many Americans believe that embryonic stem-cell research "holds the greatest promise for discovering new treatments for disease, compared to other types of stem cell research?" 90 percent? 70 percent? 40 percent? 25 percent? All wrong. The answer is an almost unbelievable 14 percent. So what do the rest think?

Well, the stress that many of us have been placing on adult stem cells, which have already proven to have great therapeutic potential, seems not to have gotten through. Those who think the "greatest promise" lies here number only 7 percent. Far more have concluded ...

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Life Matters
Nigel M. de S. Cameron is now president and CEO of the Center for Policy on Emerging Technologies. His "Life Matters" column, a commentary on bioethics issues, ran from 2005 to 2006.
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