[EDITORIALS]Competing rights

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[EDITORIALS]Competing rights

The guidelines on bioethics recently put forward by the Ministry of Health and Welfare in a proposed law are a basic blueprint for how far embryo-cloning research will be allowed to go. As had been expected, the ministry's proposals prohibit any experimental cloning of embryos except those frozen when they were less than 14 days old, but biotechnologists and doctors are opposed. Should the National Assembly approve the ministry's guidelines, it could mean that embryo-cloning research done with the aim of treatment will come to a complete stop.

A more open mind on the issue of embryo-cloning research is needed. We must remember that this research could help thousands of patients suffering from diseases for which cures are still being sought. Stem cells from embryos could be used to produce human organs that would not cause rejection by the body.

Korea's cloning technology is evaluated as being among the best in the world. Britain has already given the green light for embryo-cloning research and the United States and Japan are both preparing to pass laws that are generous towards such experimentation. If embryo-clonning research is delayed because of the ministry's proposal, the development of treatments using stem cells would be delayed. Thousands of needless deaths every year could result.

We should establish an accepted definition of an embryo. Religious groups regard embryos even less than 14 days old as human lives; scientists see them as a group of cells without any human soul. If the embryos are indeed beings with life, we should legally ban the practice of using frozen fertilized eggs in infertility treatments. Thousands of such eggs are thrown away every year by infertile couples after their treatment. We should also consider the reality that abortion is allowed even with fetuses closer to the stage of human life than embryos under special circumstances like hereditary diseases.

Undoubtedly, there are strong reasons to oppose the cloning of full-born life forms or cloning of cross species. But embryo-cloning research is different; it is to be used for the treatment of presently incurable diseases. More important than an embryo's rights is the right of a dying patient to be cured.
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