HealthLawProf Blog

Editor: Katharine Van Tassel
Case Western Reserve University School of Law

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Korean Stem Cell Pioneer Admits Ethical Lapse

In a stunning news conference on Thursday, Korean stem cell researcher, Dr. Hwang Woo Suk, admitted violations of international ethics standards.  Dr. Hwang "won world acclaim as the first scientist to clone a human embryo and extract stem cells from it," according to the New York TimesHwang admitted that some of the eggs used in his research came from junior researchers and others came from paid donors.  According to the Times:

Although the egg donations by the junior researchers were not considered a legal or ethical violation, critics say that in the strict hierarchy of a scientific laboratory in a Confucian society like South Korea, junior members often feel great pressure to please their superiors. Under international medical ethics standards, researchers are warned against receiving eggs from members of their own research teams who are deemed to be in a dependent relationship.

Payment for eggs was not illegal in 2003, but it was banned last January by South Korean law.

Hwang also resigned his position as director of the recently created World Stem Cell Hub.  On Saturday the AP reported that South Korea pledged to continue its support for Hwang's research activities.

Hwang's admission came 11 days after Dr. Gerald Schatten of the University of Pittsburgh was reported by the Korea Times to have pulled out of a partnership with Dr. Hwang "because he might be engaged in ethical breaches and lie about them."  The NY Times story states that Hwang's "world reputation is now expected to suffer a major dent over his admissions that he lied to an international scientific journal over eggs obtained in what many see as an ethically murky manner." [tm]

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