Embryonic stem cell research is an act against human dignity, says Korean Church
by Theresa Kim Hwa-young

Seoul (AsiaNews) – In his Sunday, June 12, homily, Mgr Nicholas Cheong Jin-suk, Archbishop of Seoul, said that "embryonic stem cell research presupposes human cloning and [embryo] destruction and is clearly an act against human dignity". He reiterated the Church's firm opposition to embryonic stem-cell research, urging that "it be replaced by adult stem-cell".

In a statement released on Saturday 11, the Archdiocese of Seoul went further, noting that "Professor Hwang's work carries serious repercussions, because it hurts life even if it is to find cures for incurable diseases".

"We are not against stem-cell research itself, but just embryonic stem-cell research for the embryo is human life," the statement explained.

The statement indicated that adult stem-cell research could be an alternative to embryonic stem-cell research because Dr Hwang's research presupposes human cloning and the destruction of embryos which is a clear act against human dignity.

On May 19, Prof Hwang Woo-suk from Seoul National University and his team, in cooperation with the University of Pittsburgh, were able to clone the first embryonic stem cells that genetically matched injured or sick people.

They harvested 11 stem cell lines via cloning somatic cells of 11 patients with juvenile diabetes, spinal cord injuries, and an immune disorder.

The process, which is known as somatic cell nuclear transfer, involves taking a donated egg (or oocyte) from which the nucleus has been removed, and replacing the latter with DNA from the non reproductive cell of a patient. The result was 11 lab-cultivated embryos that developed into blastocysts. At this stage, a small cavity (blastocoele) forms inside the embryo whose inner cells are undifferentiated and a source of embryonic stem cells.

For the South Korean Church, such research constitutes a life-taking activity. However, Archbishop Cheong said he was open to dialogue and prepared to meet Professor Hwang to talk about the issue. Such a meeting is expected to clear the air and bridge the gap between the two parties.

"We will prepare for the meeting between the two sides as soon as Hwang comes back from the United States,'' the archdiocese said in the statement.

Hwang is currently in Houston where he is participating in the Stem Cell Policy and Advocacy Summit.  

Professor Hwang had himself earlier expressed his willingness to meet Catholic leaders to explain his controversial research.

"If necessary, I will meet them in person and learn from them," Hwang said. 

"There is no reason why I shouldn't meet them [Church leaders] and communicate with them. This is a step we have to go through in the process of our research,'' he added.

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