Seoul (AsiaNews) Leading Catholic and lay figures have criticised the unrestrained cloning methods used in Korea, highlighting the ethical aspects of the issue and the disinformation surrounding the operation.
They are especially upset by the first tailored cloning of embryonic stem cells that took place on May 19.
The operation was performed by a team led by Professor Hwang Woo-suk of Seoul National University in cooperation with the University of Pittsburgh (US).
It involves extracting stem cells from cloned embryos taken from adult cells donated by 11 patients affected by diabetes, spinal cord injuries and immunodeficiency.
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 that nucleus 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.
In February 2004, Professor Hwang's team obtained the first blastocyst when healthy women donated the eggs.
This time, the adult cells from which embryos were cloned came from 11 donors, male and female, ranging in age from 2 to 56 (in the case of minors cells were extracted with the parents' consent). The 185 eggs used were donated by 18 volunteers.
According to many Catholic and lay ethicists, the research violates acceptable moral standards despite it having some technical merit. The operation itself is seen as ethically wrong.
Fr Lee Chang-young, publisher of the Catholic Times and a former secretary of the Commission on Justice and Peace of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Korea, said that the operation is "morally and ethically unacceptable", stressing that "an embryo is a human being and we cannot become accomplices to a society that kills its smallest members to find a cure for its oldest ones."
Professor Koo Young-moo, from the University of Ulsan, raised ethical questions about the donors, not about the embryos. For him in fact, "Hwang might face some problems since he did not discuss the risks associated with egg extraction with the 18 donors and did not specify in the signed agreement that the eggs would be destroyed".
"Imagine the worse case scenario in which a donor suffers from ovarian hyperstimulation, a dangerous condition for a woman's reproductive capacity. She might take Hwang to court and he will be in real trouble," Professor Koo said. (TK)