Revise bioethics law, says theologian

Seoul (AsiaNews/UCAN) – South Korea's first bioethics law should be revised to fully respect human dignity and values, says Father Dominic Woo Jae-myung, a Jesuit theologian and moral theology professor at Jesuit-run Sogang University.

After years of debate, South Korea adopted its own 'Bioethics and Safety Law' to regulate bioethics and safety matters within the process of bioscience development. It took effect on Jan. 1, 2005.

Father Woo criticises the law's view of life which is based on commercial and economic principles, instead of the protection of human dignity and values.

For instance, the new law sets up a National Bioethics Council to deliberate on controversial cases in bioethical research. But the 21-member Council is made up of seven people from the world of politics, seven from that of science and seven from the fields of ethics, law, philosophy, religion and social science as well as from civil and women's groups.

The problem is that more than two-thirds of the council members are involved in national policy-making or economics or are from scientific circles, i.e. groups who have a vested interest in promoting research.

For Father Woo, they cannot deliberate properly on certain projects, such as the controversial cloning of human embryonic stem cells, with the pure aim of protecting human dignity and values.

Of particular concern is Art. 22 which in principle bans somatic cell nuclear transfer but allows the nuclear transfer of somatic cells for therapeutic purposes to treat hard-to-cure or rare diseases.

"What especially concerns the Catholic Church." Father Woo said, "is that an embryo created for research purposes is identical to an embryo for creating a cloned baby." Even Ian Wilmut, who created Dolly, the first cloned sheep, is against human cloning.

South Korea is a leader in genetic research and was the fifth country where an animal was cloned.

It is also one of the countries in the United Nations that is working hard to prevent a total ban on human cloning, a move spearheaded by Costa Rica and backed by 63 other member countries. (LF)