The Science paper was based on a 12-page survey completed by more than 1,000 patients at nine U.S. fertility centers that had created and frozen embryos as part of fertility treatment.
Almost half (49 percent) of the respondents said they would be likely to donate some or all of their excess embryos to research in general.
That number increased to 60 percent when the question referred specifically to stem cell research and research aimed at developing treatments for human disease or infertility.
Other options, such as having the embryos destroyed or donating them to another infertile couple, seemed less attractive.
The results are in accord with the sentiments of the majority of the American public, the researchers said.
And reproductive specialists agreed.
Dr. Steven Ory, president of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, said in a prepared statement, "Our patients have been following the progress of embryonic stem cell research over the last few years . . . They understand that ESC research in this country is being slowed by the lack of good stem cell lines and they want to help."
He added, "The legislation that recently passed both the House and Senate would have allowed federal funding for research using new embryonic stem cell lines but would not fund the derivation of these lines. It is disappointing that the President did not consider that -- and the fact that former infertility patients very much want to contribute their embryos to scientific research with the potential to heal millions."
Dr. David Grainger, president of the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology, added, "The Duke-Hopkins survey in Science shows that patients who have overcome infertility using assisted reproductive technology have thought long and hard about what they want to do with their unused, stored embryos. . . Patients' decisions about the use of their embryos should be respected, and patients deserve to have the opportunity to follow through with their decisions."
And Robert Schwartz, director of the Texas A&M Health Science Center Institute of Biosciences and Technology at Houston, said, "The president's veto is a great disappointment but it doesn't stop us. . . This sends a message that there are many folks who believe [stem cells] have a great potential for biomedical cures."
Lyerly and Faden plan to publish more findings from the survey in subsequent papers.
"My hope is that the perspectives of the infertility patients who have legal authority and moral responsibility for the embryos will be represented in the national debate," Lyerly said.
For more on stem cells, visit the U.S. National Institutes of Health.
SOURCES: Anne Drapkin Lyerly, M.D., associate professor, obstetrics and gynecology and core faculty, Trent Center for Bioethics, Humanities and History of Medicine, Duke University, Durham, N.C.; Robert Schwartz, Ph.D., director, Texas A&M Health Science Center Institute of Biosciences and Technology, Houston; June 20, 2007, prepared statement, Steven Ory, M.D., president, American Society for Reproductive Medicine, and David Grainger, MD, MPH, president, Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology; early online release, June 20, 2007, and July 6, 2007, print edition, Science