[EDITORIALS]Think twice about stem cellsProfessor Hwang Woo-suk of Seoul National University has become a Korean national hero over the past year. His breakthroughs in stem cell research have brought out fervent patriotism in all of us.
Figuratively speaking, Koreans would like to see the tag “Made in Korea” attached to Mr. Hwang’s method of obtaining stem cells from human embryos produced by cloning. This achievement is seen as a significant step toward patient-specific therapeutic uses of stem cells.
But the excitement over Mr. Hwang has left virtually no room for questions about the ethical issues involved in using human embryos to get stem cells. It is unfortunate that this had to be the case.
The fact that religious leaders have spoken up against Mr. Hwang’s work is a sound indication that we are on the path to becoming a mature society. They pointed out that human embryos are human beings, and that it is repulsive for them to be used in experiments where they could be destroyed. They added that in Mr. Hwang’s research, women will merely become subjects of lab experiments, and unethical exchanges of ova could take place to conduct such research. Their arguments are quite logical.
It is dangerous to think that all ideas backed by the government and by most people are good ideas. We must ponder the impact Mr. Hwang’s discoveries could have on mankind. While scientists in other countries were careful to proceed with similar efforts because of the lingering ethical questions, we let Mr. Hwang do his work ahead of everyone else. This is not something of which we should be proud.
The Ministry of Health and Welfare should have served the public interest by carefully monitoring the research. Instead, it played to public opinion, and to the popularity of Mr. Hwang’s breakthroughs.
Catholic Archbishop Nicholas Cheong Jin-suk and Mr. Hwang yesterday exchanged opinions about the limits of biogenetic engineering, and about the ethical issues raised by Mr. Hwang’s work. Mr. Hwang said afterward that he would consider obtaining stem cells from adult bone marrow or blood instead of from embryos, if it were possible to accomplish the same feats by doing so. This is a welcome gesture on his part.
Because human lives are at stake in these discussions, we need to take more deliberate steps. Before we can call ourselves pioneers in genetic engineering, we must be able to clearly answer any ethical questions.