Observers often ask, "Where does the public stand on human biotechnology? How do people feel?"
These important questions present challenges for pollsters. Most of the technologies in question are new and often poorly understood. They engage deeply held values, but there is not yet a well-developed vocabulary for their deliberation.
Polls tend to show that public sentiment about human biotechnologies is strongly ambivalent. Most people value their potential to alleviate suffering, yet are apprehensive about the social consequences of some applications.
Views on human biotechnology are strongly shaped by cultural experiences. For example, in the United States, many people focus on the moral status of the embryo, mirroring the abortion debates of recent decades. In contrast, Germans are more likely to interpret powerful biotechnologies though their country's experience with the Holocaust.
One of the most consistent findings of opinion studies is that respondents' answers depend heavily on how questions are worded. For example, two separate surveys in the United States taken one month apart showed contradictory results: one found that 70% supported human embryonic stem cell research while the other found that 70% opposed it. Reading the questions reveals why: The study sponsored by a research advocacy group emphasized the potential for cures, whereas the one sponsored by opponents of abortion rights dwelled on destroying embryos. Thus, survey results must be carefully evaluated and put in an appropriate context.
After Asilomarby Editorial, Nature NewsOctober 14th, 2015Scientist-led conferences are no longer the best way to resolve debates on controversial research, and scientists who wish to self-regulate ignore public outcry at their peril.
Giant study poses DNA data-sharing dilemmaby Sara Reardon, Nature NewsSeptember 1st, 2015As the US Precision Medicine Initiative pushes forward, whether to provide sequenced genetic information to biobank donors is an unresolved question of ethics, privacy, and medical utility.
CRISPR: Move Beyond Differencesby Charis Thompson, NatureJune 24th, 2015Researchers and ethicists need to see past what can seem to be gendered debates when it comes to the governance of biotechnology.
The Lessons of Asilomar for Today’s Scienceby Alexander Capron, The New York TimesMay 28th, 2015Attempts to use new gene editing techniques to "improve" our descendants raises profound ethical and social issues, and a group dominated by scientists is too self-interested and unrepresentative to take them on.