GENTECH archive


Confucian Beliefs vs Biotechnology

Friday December 18 5:27 AM ET

S. Korea Bans Human Cloning Funding

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) - South Korea banned funding today for
research into human cloning but acknowledged that it cannot stop
``maverick doctors'' from forging ahead with the controversial

The move came after a medical team at Seoul's Kyonghee
University announced earlier this week that it had successfully
cloned a human embryo in its initial stage of development.

The announcement caught the government off guard and sparked
protest rallies by South Koreans, whose deep-rooted Confucian
beliefs were shaken by the news.

In downtown Seoul today, 20 civic activists shook signs
demanding a ban on human cloning research. One sign carried a
row of identical mug shots and asked: ``Which one is the real

The Science and Technology Ministry was not given any prior
information about the experiment by the Kyonghee University
doctors, said Kim Ho-sung, a ministry official.

``Our position is firm and clear: There will be no funding for
any such research,'' he said.

But Kim added that the government planned no legal action
against the scientists.

``There will always be maverick scientists. We cannot do
anything to stop them,'' he said. ``They will be few in number,
and you do not burn down the whole house to kill a few fleas.''

At the National Assembly, legislators prepared to pass a new law
next month banning research on human cloning except for research
on cancer or other diseases.

``The law will not punish anybody but will have a strong warning
effect on the few scientists who are interested in cloning
research,'' said Rep. Rhee Shang-hi, who spearheaded the

But civic organizations charged that the legislation would do
nothing to stop human cloning research because it does not call
for penalties and provides no clear distinction between cloning
research and similar scientific work.

``We must stop scientists seeking commercial benefits and cheap
heroism, like those at Kyonghee University,'' 20 civic groups
said in a joint statement.

Dr. Lee Bo-yeon, a professor at the fertility clinic of Kyonghee
University Hospital, said he conducted the experiment to help
infertile patients and said cloning human embryos should be
encouraged to create replacement organs.

But he said he would conduct no further experiments until legal
and ethical disputes were resolved.

Many Koreans, influenced by Confucian mores, believe that their
bodies are inherited from ancestors. They prize their family
lineage and keep detailed documents about their forebears. Human
cloning will disrupt that tradition.

Lee's team replaced the nucleus of a woman's egg with the
nucleus of one of her body cells, transferring her DNA to the

The team then cultivated the egg until it grew into four cells,
an early embryonic stage.

American cloning experts said it was the first time they knew of
that human DNA had been transferred from a body cell into a
human egg, with the egg then developing into embryonic cells.
Body cells, as opposed to eggs or sperm, contain the full
complement of a person's DNA.

But the Americans added that the experiment was stopped too
early to determine whether it would grow into a viable embryo,
much less a human fetus.

Others, including the Scottish scientists who created Dolly the
sheep, the world's first cloned animal, even doubted Lee's
claims, noting the South Korean team has yet to present its
evidence to scientific journals. 


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