Tuesday, May 17, 2005

USCCB Poll Still Finds Opposition to Federal Funding of Embryonic Stem Cell Research

USCCB, citing a recent poll, claimed Monday that a majority of Americans oppose the federal funding of embryonic stem cell research:

A majority of Americans, 52 percent, oppose federal funding of embryonic stem cell research while just 36 percent support it, according to a new poll commissioned by the Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).

Such funding is being considered by the U.S. House of Representatives, which may soon vote on a bill (H.R. 810) to fund research requiring human embryos to be destroyed for their stem cells.

When respondents were told that scientists disagree on whether embryonic stem cells, or stem cells from adult tissues and umbilical cord blood, may end up being most successful in treating diseases, 60% favored funding only the research avenues that raise no moral problem, while 22% favored funding all stem cell research including the kind that involves destroying embryos.

“It is always wrong for government to promote the destruction of innocent human life,” said Richard M. Doerflinger, Deputy Director of the USCCB Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities. “To do so when a clear majority of the taxpayers themselves reject this approach would be especially irresponsible.”

(cap tip: Insight Scoop)

We can expect that if the MSM comments on this at all, it will be to dismiss it as partisan, and there is a kernel of truth to that charge. There is a weakness in the polls released by the USCCB, which was highlighted by Matthew Nisbet of Ohio State last year.

Nisbet cited polls conducted by the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF), which backs using embryonic stem cells, and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), which opposes it.

The JDRF poll discusses using extra embryos "donated to research" and the question includes mention of possible cures that detractors say may never see the light of day. Meanwhile, the USCCB poll points out how unborn children are destroyed in their first days of life and mentions that advocates of the research want taxpayer funding for it.

The JDRF poll found that 65 percent of Americans backed embryonic stem cell research, but 70 percent opposed it when asked by the USCCB. "The fact that the public can be influenced so much by how the questions are worded tells me that Americans are susceptible to be influenced by groups on both sides. It depends on who crafts a message that appeals most to the public," Nisbet said.

Despite the mixed results, Nisbet said his analysis showed that public support overall was strongest for adult stem cell research or embryonic stem cell research only involving frozen embryos that would be destroyed otherwise.

In this light, the majority cited by this recent poll appears to be soft. While I understand the desire to put an encouraging face on our position, particularly when there is legislation pending, in the spirit of KUL agreement #4 (we can only be free in truth, and the measure of truth is reality), I hope that somebody at the USCCB's behest has been commissioning an unpublished poll question all along that includes a reference to embryos that will likely be destroyed anyway, so that at some point we can analyze the trend of Americans who support embryonic stem cell research when it is cast in a more favorable light and contrast it to the published questions from coherent sample populations. Then we will be in a better position to understand where hearts and minds are heading; where our arguments are working, and where they are not.

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