• Stem Cell Research Links
  • that they really ought to be against it," Green said. "You can imagine a lot of sermons and direct mail. But if you look at it from Bush's point of view, maybe you don't want Gary Bauer and the Catholic bishops beating up on you over an issue most people don't care about."

    The poll also asked what influence religion played on respondents' views. Though 42% of opponents listed religion as the main factor, only 18% of Catholics and 29% of white evangelicals listed religion. This would seem to indicate that religious leaders aren't having much influence on their followers.

    Doerflinger, however, disputed the way the poll questions were worded. He said the question didn't take into account two other options--besides discarding the cells or using them in research--for embryos. One option is to donate them to another woman for implantation in her womb. Another option is to simply keep the embryos in storage.

    Most Catholic and evangelical leaders support research on stem cells obtained from adult fat tissue, from miscarried fetuses, or from umbilical cords and placentas. What they object to is using stem cells obtained from frozen embryos. These embryos are created when a woman uses in-vitro fertilization methods to become pregnant. Some of the embryos are implanted into her womb, and the extra ones are frozen.

    "When the first test tube baby was born in 1978, there was some outcry and moral concern that a frontier had been crossed without adequate reflection," Gushee said. "But then mainstream voices said, 'We'll get used to this, and this is a great contribution to human happiness.' But what has developed is an unregulated industry in the manufacturing of human beings."

    Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's ethics and religious liberty commission, called the technique "biotech cannibalism." The 15-million-member SBC passed a resolution last year objecting to "human fetal tissue trafficking," including experiments on human embryonic stem cells.

    The confusion is understandable, according to Marjorie Signer, spokeswoman for the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, a national group of religious liberals who approve of embryonic stem cell research.

    "This is a huge issue for our members," she said. "We're talking about the deliberate destruction of what is potential life and what some people think is the equivalent to a walking, talking person. So there is a very hard edge to that. But of course what people don't want to talk about is they're going to be destroyed anyway."

    Last year, her group studied stem cell research, ultimately issuing a statement approving of it.

    "You weigh the morality of preserving these embryos versus the morality of using them for a potentially very great good," Signer said. "That was the morality through which we looked at it. People who are absolutists, people who are not willing to put things in a historic context, people who are literalists, are going to feel something else."

    Signer charged religious conservatives with using the stem cell issue as a fig leaf for fighting the abortion battle.

    "That's the political issue that mobilizes people, it has a huge political base you can count on, and it's an issue that says a lot of things about what's happening to society and about women's place in the family," she said.