70% agree to change baby’s genes to treat a serious disease, number falls to 14% to improve intelligence

Source: Pew Research Center

Global publics take a cautious stance toward scientific research on gene editing, according to an international survey from Pew Research Center. Yet most adult publics (people ages 18 and older) draw distinctions when it comes to specific applications of human gene editing, including showing wide support for therapeutic uses.

Chart shows wide concern about research on gene editing, but most support its use for babies to treat disease

The findings come amid a period of rapid development in biotechnology in which new tools, such as CRISPR gene-editing technology, have extended the possibilities of science, raising the need for scientists, governments and people around the world to grapple with the accompanying social, ethical and legal considerations.

A 20-public median of 63% say scientific research on gene editing is a misuse – rather than an appropriate use – of technology, according to the survey fielded in publics across Europe, the Asia-Pacific region, the United States, Canada, Brazil and Russia.

However, views on specific instances where gene editing might be used highlight the complex and contextual nature of public attitudes. Majorities say it would be appropriate to change a baby’s genetic characteristics to treat a serious disease the baby would have at birth (median of 70%), and somewhat smaller shares, though still about half or more, say using these techniques to reduce the risk of a serious disease that could occur over the course of the baby’s lifetime would be appropriate (60%). But a median of just 14% say it would be appropriate to change a baby’s genetic characteristics to make the baby more intelligent. A far larger share (median of 82%) would consider this to be a misuse of technology.

Global publics also draw distinctions between the areas of scientific research they view as appropriate and inappropriate. There is broad support across most places surveyed for scientific research on new technologies to help women get pregnant (a median of 73% view this as appropriate). But research on animal cloning is largely met with opposition, with a median of two-thirds (66%) considering scientific research on animal cloning to be a misuse of technology.

Religious beliefs tie with attitudes on many aspects of biotechnology across global publics but the impact of religion is far from uniform. For instance, Christians are often more wary than those who are religiously unaffiliated, especially in the West. In the U.S., about half as many Christians as religiously unaffiliated adults consider scientific research on gene editing to be an appropriate use of technology (21% vs. 47%). Similar gaps are seen in the Netherlands, the UK, Sweden and other publics across Western Europe.

But in India, a majority of adults (56%) view research on gene editing as appropriate – the highest level measured across places surveyed – and Hindus and Muslims there are equally likely to express this view. In Singapore – a country with a religiously diverse population –about half or more Christians, Hindus and Muslims see research on gene editing as a misuse of scientific technology. Buddhists and the religiously unaffiliated in Singapore are closely divided on this issue.

Age – rather than religion – has a more uniform relationship with views of biotechnology research and its applications across the 20 publics surveyed. In nearly all places surveyed, younger adults (those at or below the median age) are more likely than older adults to say that scientific research on gene editing is appropriate, though both groups often express general wariness. In Sweden, for instance, 38% of younger Swedes and half as many older Swedes (19%) view gene-editing research as an appropriate use of technology.

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Categories: Genetics

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