[EDITORIALS]Ethical standards neededThe National Bioethics Review Committee decided to review suspected ethical issues related to the research of Professor Hwang Woo-suk’s team on a comprehensive level to see if there are any legal or ethical problems. If necessary, the board will undergo verification procedures through several credible organizations; it plans to announce a conclusion on Jan. 13 at its general meeting.
During yesterday’s talks, officials reportedly had a heated discussion on ethics and science. The head of the committee said, “It is important that we all reflect on the past and that the committee decides on a final and ultimate conclusion in order to establish a desirable ethical standard for future research.”
The bioethics review committee, the supreme consultative organ created under the new bioethics law that went into effect in January, consists of professionals as well as ministers from the Science, Welfare and Justice ministries.
The committee has five professional groups under it; the bioethics and safety policy committees have not yet held a single meeting, and the artificial insemination and embryonic research committees have held several meetings after Dr. Hwang’s report, but have not reached a conclusion.
As an advisory group to the president, this bioethics review committee has the highest authority in evaluating life ethics issues and related safety. Now, it must play a role that lives up to its status. Even in the case of ethical issues surrounding Dr. Hwang’s research, if the committee had announced its position quickly, the matter might not have become as big an issue as it is now.
Since it is certain that bio-engineering will develop more quickly in the future, the ethics board must become more active after fixing legal and systematic defects.
Already, national interest in bio-engineering has risen to a higher-than-expected level. The members of the committee must put their heads together and reach a logical explanation in order to prevent unnecessary social conflict and a waste of energy.
Most of the people hope that Korea’s bio-engineering studies will soar to the forefront of global research. At the same time, however, we expect researchers to adhere to strict ethical standards. Furthermore, while science must not violate ethics, it will be troublesome if ethics becomes a blockade in “normal” scientific development.
We must swiftly come up with standards that our society can agree with. Only then can scientists such as Dr. Hwang engage wholly in their research based on those standards.