South Korea Stem Cell Researcher Admits More Ethical Problems

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Nov 21, 2005   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

South Korea Stem Cell Researcher Admits More Ethical Problems Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt Editor
November 21, 2005

Seoul, South Korea ( — The stem cell research program in South Korea has already been saddled with worldwide criticism for allegations in scientific journals saying a junior researcher donated her eggs for use in stem cell studies. Now another member of the research team says it ran afoul of ethical considerations.

Speaking at a news conference, Roh Sung Il, head of Miz Medi Hospital in Seoul, said he paid 20 women for contributing their eggs for research. Roh works with human cloning scientist Hwang Woo Suk, who has come under tremendous fire.

Roh said he had worried that what he was doing might be seen as controversial and kept his transactions from other researchers, including Hwang.

He indicated he paid the women about $1,400 each for the eggs that he donated to Hwang. Roh said all of the transactions took place before South Korea put in place new laws preventing paying women for eggs for research.

He emphasized that none of the eggs were obtained without the donor’s consent and that the recruitment of donors had nothing to do with the hospital’s own stem cell studies on frozen embryos.

"In 2000, our hospital began creating stem cells from leftover frozen embryos that were donated by patients who received fertility treatments," Roh said. "For embryonic stem cells, we were registered at the U.S. National Institute of Health and received $500,000 for research. That was before Dr. Hwang, Moon Shin-yong and I agreed to cooperate for therapeutic cloning in 2002."

Roh said it was hard to find egg donors in the early days of Hwang’s research.

"I paid the donors with my own money, not with research funds. The donors were given 1.5 million won," he went on. "This is not a large amount of money, considering that they had to receive injections every day for 8-10 days."

Roh said that as Hwang became more prominent, he was able to find donors who were willing to donate eggs without compensation.

Kang Shin-ik, a professor of medical ethics at Inje University, told the JoongAng Daily National newspaper that these revelations would have severe consequences.

"This case may cause the international academic community to impose research restrictions on not only Dr. Hwang, but on other Korean scientists as well," he explained.

Roh would not comment on the recent controversy over a researcher donating her eggs for studies.