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Developments in Brief : Americans Think Genetic Engineering Benefits Will Outweigh the Risks

May 31, 1987|Compiled from Times staff and wire service reports

Most Americans think that the potential benefits of genetic engineering and other aspects of the new biotechnology will outweigh the risks, and that genetic research should continue, according to a survey released last week.

The survey said 71% think that scientific innovation in the next 20 years will pose at least some risk to them and their families, but 80% said they expect the science and technology developments will benefit them and their families, according to the congressional Office of Technology Assessment, which commissioned the survey.

The office, a nonpartisan agency that studies technical issues for Congress and suggests policy alternatives, said two-thirds of those surveyed felt genetic engineering would enhance life for all people. But 52% thought the genetically engineered products of biotechnology were at least somewhat likely to be dangerous to people or the environment, and a majority felt strict regulation is essential to avoid unnecessary risks.

Eighty-two percent of those surveyed said they would favor small scale testing of genetically altered organisms in the open environment if there was no direct risk to humans, but only 42% favored large-scale agricultural tests.

Genetic engineering is the manipulation of the inherited characteristics of cells or organisms to give them properties not found naturally. Organisms can be given the ability to produce large quantities of rare drugs and other chemicals, and plants can be made to be more disease-resistant or to require less fertilizer.

The survey, conducted by Louis Harris & Associates, also found that public support for human gene therapy is surprisingly high.

Of the 1,273 adults sampled, 78% said they would undergo gene therapy if tests showed them likely to develop a serious genetic disease later in life. And 86% said they would be willing to have their children undergo such therapy if faced with a disease that is usually fatal.

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