Embryonic Stem Cell Research Support and the Use of Language

ABCNews is running some figures and commentary on public support for embryonic stem cell research. With some qualifications, there seems to be more support for this research than last year:

Advocates of this research say it can produce new treatments for disease, while critics oppose using embryos in research. After hearing these competing views, 58 percent of Americans support stem cell research, while 30 percent oppose it, according to a new ABCNEWS/Beliefnet poll. Six in 10 also say the federal government should fund it.

Mind you, I'm just as opposed to the use of government to run roughshod over those who want to live without modern medical science as as I am over any other exercise in majority rule or abuse of political structures. A centralized winner-takes-all system of democracy is not good at promoting pluralism. But I digress.

The qualifications I mention above revolve around the use of language:

There's been little independent public opinion polling on stem cell research, and recent interest-group polling has used language that produced lopsided results in opposite directions.

In a poll it released last month, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops posed the issue by saying "live embryos would be destroyed" for undefined "experiments"; it found 70 percent opposed. By contrast, a pro-research poll didn't mention embryos, referring to "excess fertilized eggs" and listing seven "deadly diseases" the research could help treat. It found 77 percent in favor.

Given its effectiveness, it's likely such language will continue from advocates on both sides as they seek to influence public opinion on the issue - opponents talking about destroying human embryos for experimentation; proponents talking about using discarded fertilized eggs for lifesaving medical research.

That's actually fairly mild; take a look at the later comments in a recent post on the stem cell debate. You can't rationally discuss the merits of embryonic stem cell research with someone who insists that all fertilized eggs - tiny spherical clusters of a few dozen cells - are "unborn babies" that should have the same rights as you or I. That is an axiom, a belief.

All that aside, the strength of opinions on both sides would seem to indicate that this will be an increasingly important issue as the year continues - California ballots and the Presidential election are both essentially referendums on stem cell research.

Thus, they are also referendums on the near term prospects for cures for age-related conditions, and longer, healthier lives.


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