[EDITORIALS]Dignity for embryosThe head of Mizmedi Women’s Hospital, which provided egg cells to the stem cell research team led by Seoul National University Professor Hwang Woo-suk, admitted that the hospital had paid some women for their eggs. Regarding the suspicion that a female researcher of Mr. Hwang’s team had donated an egg, the fertility hospital official said he could not discuss the matter due to his professional ethics.
That is far from the explanation so far provided by Mr. Hwang’s team that it had carried out the research by strictly respecting the government’s ethics guidelines. It appears that Mr. Hwang will not be able to avoid ethical debates from now on.
It is regretful that embryonic stem cell research, an amazing achievement of Korean science, is hindered by the ethics issue. Mr. Hwang’s team may feel maligned. The collection of eggs by the team took place when there were no ethics laws, much less guidelines, in Korea or the United States.
Mizmedi Hospital said it did not buy the eggs ― it simply provided compensation without additional connotations to the women who donated the eggs. This does not appear to be a matter that should be addressed by laws.
Embryonic stem cells, however, are a matter directly related to human dignity and life. When the hospital collected the eggs, a draft of the bioethics law was being discussed. The draft said that although an embryo may not have equal status as a human being, it must be respected as a life form, and that only embryos left over from fertility research could be used for research on a temporary basis.
There is room for ethical and moral controversy. Taking into account the global standard, there must never be the slightest chance of ethical breaches. Ethics must be strictly enforced, because this is about life itself.
Learning a lesson from this case, we hope that all ethics issues are clearly settled in the field of embryonic stem cell research. All members of the team, including Mr. Hwang, must publically disclose the research process and admit to any faults, if there were any. They must not continue to be seen as giving excuses.
It is also meaningful that the public has formed a volunteer group to support egg donations for research and medical treatment purposes. To meet these high hopes, embryonic stem cell research must be carried out under bioethical standards.
Bioengineering and ethics will continue to collide. When engineering precedes ethics, mankind will see a catastrophic disaster.