Italians and bioethics: attitudes shift in favour of assisted reproduction and stem cell research

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New data from the Science in Society Monitor by Observa on citizens’ attitudes toward bioethical issues presented at “The Fifth World Conference The Future of Science: The DNA Revolution”, Venice.

New survey data reveal marked shifts in the attitudes of Italian citizens with regard to certain bioethical issues. Data show over time an increasing number of opinions in favour of assisted reproduction techniques and research on embryo stem cells. Compared to 2006, citizens opposing the various modalities of assisted reproduction have decreased from 22% to 12%; simultaneously, those against using human embryonic stem cells for research purposes have decreased from 34% to 17% (view charts).

Widely accepted is also the use of DNA exams to find out whether a person is likely to develop certain diseases: 77% of respondents think these exams should be taken by everybody.

On the other hand, public attitudes remain very negative with regard to the possibility that parents, thanks to reproductive technologies, may in the future “choose” some of the biological features of their own children, such as sex.

The connection between these orientations and the more general relationship between citizens and science should not be taken for granted.
Massimiano Bucchi, Professor of Science and Technology in Society at Trento University and one of the curators of the Monitor, explains: “We are facing articulated orientations that cannot be reduced to the usual stereotypes of the clash between science and society. A common cliché that should be avoided is the opinion that more restrictive attitudes toward bioethical issues stem from disinformation or ignorance. For instance, the level of scientific literacy and exposition to science in the media is very much the same among those who express a positive opinion rather than among those who are more critical.”

Complete results were presented in Venice on the occasion of The Fifth World Conference on the Future of Science – The DNA Revolution.

The Science in Society Monitor is since 2002 the first permanent monitor of Italian public opinion and attitudes towards science and technology issues. The Monitor is an initiative by Observa – Science in Society, supported by Compagnia di San Paolo.

CATI survey conducted on a sample of 1020 subjects, stratified by gender, age and geographical area of residence, representative of the Italian population aged 15 and over.

Observa – Science in Society is a non-profit independent research centre promoting the study and the discussion of the interaction between science, technology and society, stimulating dialogue among researchers, policy makers and citizens.

(Translation by Silvia Casini)