NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) — A majority of Americans support advancing genetics research and genetic testing, although more than one third are concerned about the safety guarantees of such science, according to a public opinion survey of public attitudes about biomedical science.
According to Virginia Commonwealth University’s Life Sciences Survey 2008, 80 percent of Americans favor making genetic testing “easily available to all who want it,” around the same amount who felt that way in 2001 and in 2004.
Americans also see genetics as playing a role in their lives, with 45 percent of adults saying that they have a disease or a medical condition that is “strongly related to genetic factors,” an increase of 7 percent over the 2007 survey. The margin of error for the survey is plus or minus 3.8 percentage points.
The study, which included 1,005 adults interviewed via telephone, also found that 54 percent believe that the benefits of genetic testing outweigh the risks, while 25 percent saw the risks as too great, and 21 percent did not know or refused to answer. That breakdown in opinions has changed slightly over the past eight years, with 57 and 58 percent in 2001 and 2004, respectively, believing that the benefits of genetic testing outweigh the risks.
Among the 80 percent who support making genetic tests easily available to all who want them, 38 percent were “somewhat” in favor of such access and 42 percent were “strongly” supportive.
VCU said that the concerns the public had about genetic research vary, as 38 percent thought that “too little is known about how to conduct such research safely,” 28 percent were concerned that the research may “violate moral principles,” and 21 percent had worries about the potential for discrimination.
Few of those surveyed felt that the government could protect them from any potential perils of genetic research, with 53 percent saying that it could not protect the public from such harms, down slightly from the 57 percent who held that view in the 2007 survey. VCU found that 17 percent believed that the government could keep them safe from such problems.
“The groups with more information about genetics are more likely to give a skeptical response to the idea that government regulation will protect the public from risks linked to genetic science,” VCU said, with those who had more information about science and medicine holding this view more strongly than those who did not.
The survey found that 57 percent of respondents believe that the environment and living practices, not genes, are more important influences on behavior, while 27 percent see it oppositely, and 16 percent did not provide answers or said ‘neither/both’ were important.
Similar belief patterns held for attitudes about disease with 66 percent disagreeing with the idea that “a person’s likelihood for disease is pretty much set from birth,” while 29 percent agreed with that statement.