Religion and opinion about reproductive human cloning

- Joakim Hagelin
Synalsv 10, SE 75757 Uppsala, Sweden
Email: jh14@hotmail.com

Eubios Journal of Asian and International Bioethics 14 (2004), 214-216.


Following scientific progress in genetics in the recent decade, there have been an increasing number of opinion polls from commercial polling organizations about reproductive human cloning (Harris Research 1997, Singer et al. 1998, Harris Interactive Election Survey 2000, Carroll 2001, Time/CNN 2001, TNS Intersearch 2001, Evans 2002, Gallup 2003, Nisbet 2004). The results of these public opinion polls unanimously suggest that a vast majority are opposed to reproductive human cloning. Among control variables that have been subjected to investigation; religious belief has been found to affect opinion, in particular among them who are opposed (Singer et al. 1998, Time/CNN 2001, TNS Intersearch 2001, Evans 2002). However, the surveys cited either treat all religions as one group or focus on different Christian groups. Many surveys have been conducted covering other issues related to the advancements in genetic engineering in recent years. The combined results of these surveys suggest that whereas the scientific communities primarily focus on technical, research-oriented issues, the public seems more concerned with ethics, safety and value (Hagedorn and Allender-Hagedorn 1997). The cloning of Dolly in 1997 provoked similar reactions; scientists extended cloning technology to other species, mostly farm animals, whereas other stakeholders (e.g. politicians, ethicists and religious leaders) formulated statements to condemn cloning of humans. The vast majority of major religious groups and technologically competent countries in the world have condemned reproductive human cloning (Reilly 2000, Nudeshima 2001, McGee 2002, Spranger 2002). Tharien (1998) suggested that although the vast majority of interviewees from South East Asian countries were opposed to reproductive human cloning, some expressed a more permissive view.

The aim of the present study was to elucidate whether there was any difference in opinion about human cloning according to religious belief. Religion, age and gender served as control variables.

 

Materials and methods

The non-probability sample consisted of 3503 undergraduate students of various scientific disciplines surveyed from 1999-2000 from Indonesia (n=600, surveyed in 2002), Kenya (n=384), Sweden (n=2020) and USA (n=499). Respondents were on average 23 years old (SD=4.6), and 58.6% were female. The age of the respondents was divided into three groups in the analysis below ( 21 yrs, 22-25 yrs, and 26 yrs). A more comprehensive demographic description of the respondents and survey procedures was included in Hagelin et al. (2001) and Hagelin (2004).

Questionnaires were distributed towards the end of lectures and were voluntarily filled in anonymously and immediately after distribution. Internal response rate varied slightly between survey items. The numbers of Hindus, Muslims, Protestants and Roman Catholics were large enough to allow for group wise comparisons. Other religious groups were not large enough for statistical comparisons. The question on religiosity was a split one, phrased "Are you an active religious person?" If "yes", the respondents were asked to indicate whether they were Protestant, Roman Catholic, Muslim or belonged to some other religion (i.e. an open option where respondents could indicate their religion). Neither the intensity of religious belief, nor the level of liberalism/traditionalism of the religious respondents was investigated further. The proportion of respondents describing themselves as religiously active differed between countries. A far lower proportion of the Swedish sample indicated religiously activity compared to the other three countries (P<0.001). The proportion of respondents belonging to different religions differed between geographic locations. All four religions in the present analysis were however recorded in the four regions. The vast majority of the Swedish respondents were Protestants, whereas there were more equal proportions of Protestants and Roman Catholics in the Kenyan and the US samples. The Indonesian sample consisted predominantly of Hindus and Muslims. The question on cloning was phrased "Do you have a positive or negative attitude towards using cloning of humans in research?" Whereas phrasing generally differs in between previous polls, similar items were used in the HTR/NBC/WSJ poll (Singer et al. 1998, p. 662), the Harris Interactive Election 2000 survey, Carroll (2001), the Pew poll (Evans 2002) and in a Gallup poll and the CBS poll summarised by Nisbet (2004). Chi square analysis was performed using SAS/STAT (SAS Institute Inc: Cary, NC, USA).

 

Results

Overall, 10.4% of all respondents were positive and 73.8% were negative to human reproductive cloning (Table 1).

A higher proportion of religious respondents were positive to human cloning than were non-religious respondents (P<0.001). There was no difference in proportion between religious and non-religious respondents among those who were negative to human cloning.

 

Table 1. Religiosity and opinions about reproductive human cloning. Percentages.

 

 

Positive

Negative

Don't know

None

N

Hindu

15.3

57.6

20.3

6.8

177

Muslim

9.1

81.3

6.7

2.5

342

Protestant

11.1

76.7

10.2

2.0

557

Roman Catholic

18.9

71.4

8.3

1.4

217

Other religions

15.0

66.3

16.2

2.5

80

 

 

 

 

 

 

Total average among

religious respondents

12.6

73.9

10.7

2.8

1373

Not religious respondents

9.0

73.8

15.9

1.3

2108

 

There was no difference in opinion towards reproductive human cloning according to age among the religious respondents. According to gender, a lower proportion of female religious respondents accepted reproductive human cloning compared to male religious respondents (P<0.001). Moreover, a higher proportion of female religious respondents opposed reproductive human cloning than male religious respondents (P<0.001).

A similar internal pattern was evident among the non-religious respondents opinion towards reproductive human cloning according to age and gender (accept P<0.001; and oppose P<0.001 respectively).

A higher proportion of Roman Catholic respondents were positive to human cloning compared to other religious respondents (P<0.002). A lower proportion of Muslim respondents were positive to human cloning compared to other religious respondents (P<0.03). A higher proportion of Muslim respondents were negative to human cloning compared to other religious respondents (P<0.001). A lower proportion of Hindu respondents were negative to human cloning than were other religious respondents (P<0.001).

Discussion

The present survey focused on religious belief and opinion about reproductive human cloning. Overall, the results suggested that about 10% accepted and almost three out of four opposed reproductive human cloning. These proportions are similar to the results of previous polls. The present results further suggested that there was a slight difference in proportions of those positive according to whether respondents considered themselves religiously active or not. There was however no such difference among the proportion of respondents who where negative to reproductive human cloning. This finding disagreed with previous polls, which found that a higher proportion of religious people opposed human cloning than did non-religious people (Carroll 2001, TNS Intersearch, 2001). There were minor differences in between respondents of different religions. Among religious respondents, there was no difference in opinion according to age, and a lower proportion of female than male respondents accepted reproductive human cloning. These findings confirm previous results. Opinion surveys may, in general, be affected by a number of possible sources of error related both to the survey instrument, e.g. definitions, wording of questions, and response scales, and to the characteristics of the sample questioned, e.g. personal interest, knowledge and experience (Schuman and Presser 1996). Even if one may assume that the quality of surveys is reasonably good, their results can be clearly interpreted and the surveys are comparable, direct comparisons should always be made with caution. It is however reasonable to assume that the respondents of the present sample 1) were younger on average and their age more homogeneous, and 2) that the level of formal education was higher and more homogenous compared to samples of the general public.

Although a clear majority opposed human reproductive cloning in all four geographic regions, there were minor differences in proportions. Lower proportions of the Kenyan and the US sub-samples were negative compared to the Indonesian and the Swedish sub-samples. Previous polls cited have predominantly covered the UK or the US, and it is not unlikely that there are differences in opinion between geographical regions. In fact, higher levels of support have been reported for a few Eastern European countries as compared to other European countries (Gallup 2003). The results of previous polls also indicate a slight variation in proportions of opposition between surveys conducted within the US (Singer et al. 1998, Carroll 2001, TIME/CNN 2001, TNS Intersearch 2001, Evans 2002). There was a positive relationship between education and opinion to human cloning in Evans (2002). However, past research on opinions to other applications of genetic research suggest that the impact of education on results vary between polls (Condit 2001).

In addition to religious belief, there may well be cultural, economic, media, political, scientific, social, as well as other factors that may influence formation of opinions towards reproductive human cloning. The mechanisms behind the formation of opinions towards reproductive human cloning need to be investigated in more detail in future surveys. Furthermore, future surveys should include larger sub-samples for some religions included in the present survey, inclusion of religious groups not explicitly covered in the present sample, and large probability samples of different geographical regions.

The results of the present survey indicates that there was little difference in opinion towards reproductive human cloning according to religious belief as well as in between respondents belonging to different religious groups.

 

Acknowledgements

Participating teachers and students are acknowledged for their kind co-operation.

 

References

Carroll, J. (2001) Americans oppose human cloning. Gallup News Service. Poll analyses. June 27.

Condit, C. (2001) What is 'public opinion' about genetics? Nature Reviews Genetics 2: 811-815.

Evans, J.H. (2002) Religion and human cloning: an exploratory analysis of the first available opinion data. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 41: 747-758.

Gallup (2003) The acceptance of therapeutic and reproductive cloning by the public. Public opinion survey in 30 European countries. (Wavre: EOS Gallup Europe).

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