The dignity of the early embryo has become the central ethical issue in the public debate over the advisability of continuing human embryonic stem cell research in the last years. This orienting question is shared by both proponents and opponents of the research on embryos. The topic is really important because if from the perspective of science, embryonic stem cells are one more promising chapter of biomedical research about future treatment of Alzheimer, Diabetes or Parkinson; from an ethical point of view, embryonic stem cell advances touch the essence of our society because they implies the intervention in the human nature from their more early stages. This practice has been always a referent for the laws and scientific and medical activities in societies with a civilized life together. Therefore, the answer that different actors implied in the discussion-politicians, biotechnology industry, private associations, religious representatives, ethical experts, etc.- and its transmission and perception to the general public, mainly through mass media, will be determinant in future laws. In Spain, there had been an important debate, especially from 2002 about researching on frozen embryos and from December 2006 a law on Biomedical Research allows researching on frozen embryos, human embryonic stem cell in general and also human therapeutic cloning.
“Political debate” and “embryonic stem cells” have been the main protagonists of Spanish media coverage about stem cell research in printed press from 1996 to 2006. This is one of the main conclusions of the doctoral thesis titled “Media Coverage “Media Coverage of stem cell research from the perspective of framing. El País and ABC (1996-2006)” presented in CEU Cardinal Herrera University (Valencia) by Cristina Rodríguez Luque. The author run a content analysis of 2.481 texts printed in two Spanish daily newspapers with a method has been used before in The New York Times and Washington Post. The Spanish papers analyzed are situated in the two extremes of the ideological spectrum: El País is more identified with social democrats tendencies and ABC is closer to liberal positions.
The thesis concludes that stem cell research is practically absent from the political agenda of the mass media in the first years, although in the scientific arena it was known about since the 1970s and it is a growth area in research during the period analyzed. In fact, stem cell research is not covered in the Spanish media until it becomes an issue in the European arena in the year 2000. The coverage peaks from 2002 to 2004 and this coincides with the maximum of the frame “political strategy” and the consideration of the issue in Spanish Senate and as a regional conflict. Industrial aspects are absent above 90% with the frames “Market/Economic promise” and “Patenting/property rights”. The peaks of media coverage in El País and ABC about stem cells are identified in periods of political discussion when the main frames used by journalists are “political strategy”, “new research” and “ethics-morality”.
In the relationship between the frame of the text and sources of stem cell, when the texts are framed around new researches, there are more sources of stem cells, while when the discussion is framed in the terms of legislation, there are only adult and embryonic stem cells. The mass media has focused more on the political controversy about the authorization of research on embryonic stem cells than on informing about scientific advances in this field with adult stem cells. Therefore, the political debate has focused the media debate around embryonic stem cells in the majority of the texts (58%) with less attention paid to other sources such as adult (17%), and bone marrow stem cells (7,2%). Bone marrow stem cells are proposed in the scientific literature as a variety with a great potential for treatment. In the scientific arena, according to the searches in ISI Web of Science, the quantities are reversed if we compare with the media arena. In fact, in scientific micro media, the stars are bone marrow stem cells in a 72,48% of the cases. While embryonic stem cells have lower proportional presence (20,23%) and the presence of human embryonic stem cells is still lower (4,23%).
From 1996 to 2006, the study identifies five stages in the development of the information. The topic is introduced in the mass media in scientific and medical terms and it experiments an evolution. The five stages identified are: “Medical-Scientific aspects (1996-1999)”, “International and European Policy (2000)”, “Introduction to national politics. First debate in Spanish Congress (2001)”, “Spanish policy: regional conflict (2002-2004)” and “Spanish Policy: Legislation (2005-2006)”.
The number of sources used by journalists increases parallel to the number of texts, but it is not until 1999 when these starts to appear and more of the half of the sample only include one source. In the first two stages of the information, there are more arguments against the techniques studied than in favour, but after 2001, the situation is completely reversed and the arguments in favour are duplicated when the issue becomes part of the national political debate and the presence of embryonic stem cells reaches 87%. Journalists of both newspapers selected more voices in favour than against of research on embryonic stem cells, frozen embryos and therapeutic cloning. The profile of the voice in favour is usually a politician or a scientist; while the voices against are restricted to members of the Catholic Church. There are more voices selected in favour (137) than against (85). The majority of the “pro” positions do not give any reasons (25,4%), followed by 19,97% that propose “curing diseases” as a reason. The most used argument in sources positioned against is the “defense of life” in 52, 94% of voices against.
Considering the weight of the editorial line, ABC presents more alternatives to the use of embryos and it specifies the source of stem cells 40,8% more than El País. In addition, the editorial line has an impact in the strategic use of biomedical terminology. El País, which does not consider the zygote before 14 days as a human being, uses the term “pre-embryo” double the number of times that ABC does, the latter paper defends the protection of that biological entity. El País is consequent with its position throughout the decade and it does not register any text against the techniques analyzed, while ABC experiments a change of the editorial line about researching on stem cells in general in 2001 and on frozen human embryos from Fertilization in Vitro in 2003 and it publishes one editorial article in favour of therapeutic cloning in 2005.
Cristina Rodrìguez Luque Ph.D. in Journalism with the thesis “Media Coverage of stem cell research from the perspective of framing. El País and ABC (1996-2006)”. Co-directed by the Physiology Professor Fco. Javier Romero and the Doctor in Journalism Elvira García de Torres. This thesis was qualified with Sobresaliente cum laude and European mention by a panel of experts formed by Professor Luis Núñez Ladeveze (CEU St. Paul University. Madrid), Professor José Manuel García-Verdugo (Valencian University), Dr. Bernardino Cebrián (CEU Cardinal Herrera University. Valencia), Dr. Diego Contreras (Pontifical University of the Holy Cross. Rome) and Dr. Dominique Brossard (University of Wisconsin-Madison).
This thesis has been funded with a research grant from the Regional Government of Valencia and with two grants from Saint Paul CEU Foundation to be a research visitor in the School of Journalism of Wisconsin-Madison after the supervision of Dra. Dominique Brosard and in the London School of Economics after the advisory of Dr. Martin W. Bauer. She obtained the degree in Journalism by University Saint Paul CEU University in 2005.