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Stem Cell Research Backed and Opposed in Polls

JCWillke   |   July 01, 1999

Gannett News gave wide publicity to a poll done by the Patient Coalition for Urgent Research. In May, it surveyed 1000 adults by telephone. Those polled were first given a definition of a stem cell. Then they were told these cells could be grown from 1) “excess human embryos” or 2) “fetal tissue donated to research.” Following this was a long list of possible beneficial uses for such cells. In response to this, 69% either strongly or somewhat favored research using stem cells, while 26% were somewhat or strongly opposed.

Now let’s look at a second poll also done recently. It was by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops. The wording of this question was different from the wording above. This poll asked whether people opposed or supported research “in which live human embryos would be destroyed or discarded.” In this poll 74% opposed such use of stem cells.

As we have said time and time again, when judging the results of polls, do not look at the results reported. Rather, first examine the wording of the questions, then decide whether the poll results have legitimacy. Clearly, both polls asked for essentially the same information. The wording of the questions was different. The bishop’s poll was more realistic and accurate, and it brought a totally different answer.

Also in May, a presidential advisory commission judged that it was ethical for the government to pay for such controversial research, “as long as the embryos are not created solely for research purposes.” This defies logic. These either are or are not living human embryos. Their lives are either respected or they are directly killed in this procedure. Why does it make a difference whether they were created for this specific purpose or whether they were created for some other purpose before they were killed? The point is they are being killed, and the pro-life movement objects to killing innocent human embryos.

It is recalled that a major justification for Nazi doctors experimenting on humans sounded strangely similar. It went like this. “Well, these Jews (or Gypsies etc.) are going to be killed anyway, so we might as well make use of these human bodies rather than let them go to waste.” And so, certain Nazi doctors collected brains, made lampshades out of skin and did many experiments on their victims, both before as well as after killing them. This was all in the name of what they called science. After all, the end result was to be the betterment of mankind.

The Nuremberg trials considered these arguments put forth as justification for what the Nazi doctors did. The judges totally rejected such, and some of the doctors who did these experiments were hanged. Enough said.

Since everything today coming out of Washington seems to be predicated on the most recent poll on the subject, it’s good to look at wordings of other questions, to emphasize the fact that we should not accept, out of hand, the headline trumpeting the results of a specific poll. As our readers know, the wording of the question leads the answer. But, let’s look at the results of a few polling questions to reemphasize this fact.

Apropos the question above on stem cells, let’s look at another example of two questions asked of the same people in the same poll. Here are the questions.

In general do you think a woman should have the right to choose to have an abortion? Yes – 67% No – 29%

In general do you think the lives of unborn babies should be protected? Yes – 79% No – 19%

Clearly, this was the same question, but worded differently. The difference in wording completely reversed the answers. It might be noted that 37% of the respondents said yes to both questions.

Let’s look at another poll, again asked of the same people in the same poll.

Would you favor or oppose a constitutional amendment which would guarantee a woman’s right to have an abortion? Favor – 53% Oppose – 41% Don’t Know – 6%

Now let’s go down and ask the second one.

Would you favor or oppose a constitutional amendment which would guarantee a woman’s right to make a choice to have an abortion? Favor – 63% Oppose – 32% Don’t Know – 3%

Notice the very slight difference in wording. The second question used the identical wording, except that it added “to make a choice” to the wording. But this addition added 10% to the approval and subtracted 9% from disapproval.

So let’s repeat. Never swallow what the headline reports or the network tells you. First examine the wording of the question. Only then render your judgment.


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