ISSR Makes Statement on Cybrids and Chimeras

If you haven’t already, check out the statement on cybrids and chimeras published by the International Society for Science and Religion. The statement, which examines the background and ethical issues surrounding scientific research based on the artificial creation of human-animal hybrids, is written by Sir Brian Heap, the president of ISSR, and the Rev. Dr. Ronald Cole-Turner, ISSR’s vice-president. Heap says that they “urge that a prudent and respectful regard for the sensitivities of the public be maintained by researchers and policy-makers alike, in recognition of the long-term benefits to science that come from maintaining public support,” and Cole -Turner encourages researchers to communicate openly and fully about the technical feasibility and scientific potential of their proposed experiments.

For Some, Extra Embryos Lead to Hard Decision

Most couples that undergo in-vitro fertilization would rather destroy their extra embryos than donate them to another couple, according to Dallas-Fort Worth channel WFAA. Surplus embryos can be donated to another couple, discarded, or given over for research—which essentially means they’re destroyed. “Given the three options,” Dr. Kevin Doody of the Center for Assisted Reproduction tells the TV station, “the majority of couples actually desire to discard their embryos or donate them to research, rather than for reproductive purposes.”
At Doody’s clinic, about 10 percent of these surplus embryos are donated to other couples, but the national average is about 1 percent.
“I think it’s been slow to catch on,” he says, “and frankly, I’m a bit mystified myself as to the reason behind that.” —Heather Wax

Catholic Bishops & Embryonic Stem Cells

On Friday, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops approved a document that condemns embryonic stem cell research, which they claim is morally dangerous and reduces human beings to manufactured commodities. The document, ratified by a near unanimous vote of 191 to 1, says that even if embryonic stem cell research can provide significant medical advancements, “no commitment to a hoped-for ‘greater good’ can erase or diminish the wrong of directly taking innocent human lives here and now.” The bishops made clear that they do not wish to force Catholics to choose between science and religion, but rather to consider human dignity before conducting medical research—and the document does allow for research that “involves no direct harm to human beings at any stage of development,” including research involving adult stem cells and those obtained from umbilical cord blood. Yet, according to virtually all stem cell scientists, adult cells cannot substitute for embryonic stem cells, which have the proven capacity to become every kind of cell in the human body. From a scientific perspective, Christopher Thomas Scott, executive director of the Stanford Center for Biomedical Ethics Program on Stem Cells and Society, told Science & Spirit last year that we need to pursue all avenues in “a robust research effort, one that is agnostic to cell type.” —Stephen Mapes

How We Think About Stem Cell Research

Religious values hold more sway over public attitudes toward stem cell research than scientific knowledge does, according to a new survey conducted by a team of communications researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “More knowledge is good—everybody is on the same page about that. But will that knowledge necessarily help build support for the science?” one of the study’s authors, Dietram Scheufele, said in UW-Madison news story. “The data show that no, it doesn’t. It does for some groups, but definitely not for others.”
Here’s how it works: For those who place a high value on science, their level of scientific understanding matters and helps shape their attitudes. For people who aren’t very religious, understanding the science is linked to more positive views toward stem cell research. But for those who say religion plays a large role in their lives, scientific knowledge doesn’t influence their attitudes toward the research at all. According to Scheufele, then, the answer “is not about providing religious audiences with more scientific information. In fact, many of them are already highly informed about stem cell research, so more information makes little difference in terms of influencing public support. And that’s not good or bad. That’s just what the data show.”
The results, published in the International Journal of Public Opinion Research, are similar to an earlier study conducted by Scheufele and Elizabeth Corley of Arizona State University, which looked at attitudes toward nanotechnology. Again, the message is that attitudes and values are different from knowledge and understanding, which researchers would do well to keep in mind when thinking about how to communicate about controversial scientific issues with the public. —Heather Wax

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