Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Poll: Voters Back Stem-Cell Research

Advocates making a major push on Beacon Hill this week for legislation allowing embryonic stem cell research released the results of a new survey that shows strong voter support for the plan.

Meanwhile, a 20-member coalition of scientists, advocacy groups, businesses and researchers held a press conference yesterday introducing the formation of MassCURE, the Massachusetts Citizens United for Research Excellence. One of the member organizations, the Newton-based Civil Society Institute, released the results of a poll showing widespread support for the plan among religions and political parties.

Gail Pressberg, senior fellow with Civil Society Institute, described the polling results as "unmistakable and widespread support'' for the pending legislation.

"These findings make it clear that the few vocal opponents out there are almost speaking for no one but themselves,'' Pressberg said.

The results showed that 81 percent of those polled support legislation sponsored by Senate President Robert Travaglini, D-East Boston. Fifteen percent are opposed.

The legislation would establish a state policy of supporting and permitting "research and clinical applications involving the derivation and use of human embryonic stem cells, human embryonic germ cells, placental and umbilical cord cells and any human adult stem cells." The legislation states that reproductive cloning would be prohibited.

A review board would be appointed to monitor ethical and legal standards and establish safeguards. The board would have to approve the use of any donated human embryos.

The Legislature is expected to debate the issue in the coming weeks.

Of those polled, 70 percent said they support embryonic stem cell research; 21 oppose it. The poll showed that 62 percent of Roman Catholics support embryonic stem cell research, along with 69 percent of unenrolled voters, 53 percent of Republicans and 73 percent of rural/small town residents.

The poll showed that voters also support somatic cell nuclear transfer, also known as therapeutic cloning. Voters support that process 62 percent to 30 percent, but that figure jumps to 80 percent to 13 percent in favor when additional information about the process was provided to the voter. Therapeutic cloning does not create human life but is used to generate stem cells for medical research.

Gov. Mitt Romney, and many lawmakers have reservations about Travaglini's plan because they oppose therapeutic cloning.

Although the group that paid for the survey supports stem cell research, the pollster said his company is "not in the business of getting the client the results'' to back their position.

"It is true the organization that hired us supports stem cell research but we have a reputation to maintain for honest polling," said Guy Molymeaux, partner and vice president of Peter D. Hart Research Associates Inc.

The Civil Society Institute commissioned the study, which was conducted by Peter D. Hart Research Associates Inc. The survey of 606 likely voters in Massachusetts was conducted between March 7 and March 9.

The institute is a member of a 20-member coalition that was announced yesterday to lobby for the passage of the legislation.

The Massachusetts Catholic Conference has launched an advertising campaign denouncing the legislation. The Catholic Conference opposes embryonic stem cell research.

"We feel that opponents to the bill are very active and so we feel like the other side has to be equally active so misinformation doesn't override the facts," said Don Gibbons, a spokesman for Harvard Medical School, a member of the coalition. "Our research community deserves the support of a coalition like this."

Other members include the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, Boston University, National Council on Spinal Cord Injury and the Massachusetts Medical Society.

By: Jennifer Fenn - Eagle Boston Bureau