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Americans and Embryonic Stem Cell Research

Americans and Embryonic Stem Cell Research

A Washington, D.C., federal district judge ruled Monday that federal money cannot be used for embryonic stem cell research.

The ruling overturned a 2009 Obama administration executive order that attempted to justify such use in the context of the Dickey-Wicker Amendment to a 1996 federal budget bill. As Judge Royce Lambert explained in his ruling, the Dickey-Wicker amendment "prohibited the use of federal funds for "(1) the creation of a human embryo or embryos for research purposes; or (2) research in which a human embryo or embryos are destroyed, discarded, or knowingly subjected to risk of injury or death greater than that allowed for research on fetuses in utero under" applicable federal regulations." The judge ruled that the guidelines issued under the 2009 executive order "violate the Dickey-Wicker Amendment."

Conservatives cheered the ruling yesterday, with the Family Research Council's Tony Perkins saying: "Today's ruling is a stinging rebuke to the Obama Administration and its attempt to circumvent sound science and federal law, which clearly prohibits federal funding for research that involves the destruction of human embryos."

Others, including many medical researchers, were dismayed. The New York Times quotes Dr. Irving L. Weissman, director of the Stanford Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine, as saying that the ruling was "devastating to the hopes of researchers and patients who have been waiting so long for the promise of stem cell therapies."

And for the American public? Taken as a whole, the evidence shows that the majority of Americans support the use of stem cells taken from human embryos for medical research. Gallup has been tracking Americans' views on the issue since 2002. We ask whether "Medical research using stem cells obtained from human embryos" is morally acceptable or morally unacceptable -- one of a list of a number of moral issues tested in Gallup's annual May Moral Values poll.

As of May of this year, 59% of Americans said that embryonic stem cell research was morally acceptable, while 32% said it was morally unacceptable. That's about a 2-to-1 ratio. There has been some slight change in this over the years. The percent morally acceptable began at 52%, climbed to 64% in May 2007, and has settled back down to about its current level over the last two years.

Not shockingly, the major dividing line on this issue is partisanship and ideology -- which in turn are highly correlated with church attendance.

A majority of Republicans, conservatives, and those who attend church weekly say that embryonic stem cell research is morally unacceptable. A majority of independents, liberals, moderates, Democrats, and those who attend church less than weekly say that such research is morally acceptable.

These data give us a clear indication of the nature of the responses to the judge's ruling we will be hearing and reading from various segments of the commentator/blogging/pundit/politician class in the days to come.

I based most of my analysis of Obama's decline in our weekly averages, which at 44% last week (Aug. 9-15) was still not much different than the 45% I used in the analysis. We only have three days of reporting under our belt for this week, so we will need to wait and see how this week's average ends up. So far, of course, it looks like the weekly average will be down. I'll update my views on how stunning the decline is after this week's data are all in.


Frank Newport, Ph.D., is a Gallup Senior Scientist. He is the author of Polling Matters: Why Leaders Must Listen to the Wisdom of the People and God Is Alive and Well. Twitter: @Frank_Newport

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