[INSIGHT]How Things Should Be; How They AreWe are all too much men of principles. We habitually emphasize rules. Unfortunately there are matters that cannot be solved that way. That is why we have to hammer out social consensus from time to time. The capacity of a democratic society can be measured by how much efficient it is in building social consensus on such matters.
We have a few issues of great importance to be decided by national consensus. They are the proposal of a bioethics bill to ban research human embryo cells, a proposed bill to allow children to take stepfather's surname, and whether or not to permit preferential admission to college based on contribution.
The bioethics bill is a very important issue that is directly related to studies on human life. The civil code is about basic human rights for the children of divorced mothers. The preferential admission is one of alternatives to revive the withering finance of universities. However, the discussions really needed to build social consensus on the matters have not taken place at all. Or the discussions stay around where they started. It is because of the principle of human dignity, traditional ethics and the current law giving the head of a family only to men, and the principle of equality and fairness in education opportunity.
The human life can not be the subject to be artificially concocted. Human being is human being even at the stage of embryo cells. So any attempt to treat human being as a studying tool can not be allowed. This is the logic of people who would like to ban research on human embryo cells. However bioengineering is not about damaging the dignity of human being, it is about making human life more decent and dignified by finding a way to heal incurable diseases through the research of human embryo cells. The draft of a bioethics bill bans even research of cloning somatic cells in addition to the research of cloning a real human being. It would freeze all the research in bioengineering if the bill were passed as it is. If all the researches are banned simply because of abstract possibility of dangers, any efforts and attempts to solve the problems can not be made. Researchers and scholars are asking permission to study human embryo cells. Are they asking to damage human dignity.
Recently novelist Kong Ji-young contributed a story to the JoongAng Ilbo with "heroic" resolution. She got remarried, and has a son from her first marriage. However, legally he is simply an inmate in the household of his stepfather. She gave birth to her second son after the remarriage. She had to agonize over explaining why brothers have to have different surnames. She has thought about getting her son a new birth certificate by forging public documents. There are 160,000 women in similar situation.
The bill to allow the children to have their stepfathers' surnames are sleeping in the National Assembly, because of the possibility that the bill would give confusion to people's identity. How long are we going to ignore the scars of the children and earnest appealings by their mothers.
I had been opposed to the preferential admission based on contribution. It was because I cared about the principles of equal opportunity in education and recipients' responsibility for payment. We have already allowed preferential admissions to students from remote farming and fishing villages, and students who take the burden of supporting family members. We could hardly have been able to make students share what they are supposed to under the principle of recipients' responsibility since they have been continuously protesting against any raise in tuition. If so, who have to pay for the developments of universities in terms of quality as well as quantity? Government? Even the current education budget of this country is not enough even for developing elementary and middle schools.
The alternative is the preferential admission based on contributions. Many places in the world have already had such systems. However, we are not talking about legalizing the college admissions solely based on the amount of financial contribution. What we are asking for is to give some preference to material, or non-material contributors' offsprings according to the transparent standards of universities.
While taking a serious view of the principle of equal opportunity in education, if 1,000, or 10,000 students can benefit from one preferential admission because of the financial largess of a donor, why do we have to be opposed? We are not asking to discard the principle. We are simply asking to have recourse to the last resort to give exits to the finance of universities while trying to do the best to keep the principle.
Everyone has said the competitiveness of education is the very competitiveness of the nation. If government is trying to avoid the responsibility of building a social consensus on this realistic alternative, citing public opinion, this is an act of cowardice. When a society can hammer out its consensus as it accommodates the wisdom of changes and irregularities within the boundaries of principles, we can call it future-oriented.
The writer is the editorial page editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kwon Young-bin