by Steven Ertelt
May 15, 2006
Seoul, South Korea (LifeNews.com) — News that the South Korean government had indicted embryonic stem cell researcher Hwang Woo-suk and his colleagues on charges of fraud and embezzlement dominated the headlines last week. But the government’s report also revealed Hwang’s team used five times more human eggs in their research than they claimed.
The news is disturbing to bioethics observers because people on both sides of the stem cell research debate are concerned that egg donations take advantage of women, especially, the poor, and can lead to coercion.
Government prosecutors said Friday that they found Hwang’s team used 2,236 ova taken from 136 women between November 2002 and December 2005.
The donations came from four medical institutions that worked with Hwang’s team, the Korean Times reported. They include Hanyang University Medical Center, fertility clinic MizMedi Hospital, Jeil General Hospital and Hanna Women’s Clinic.
The number is far more than the 427 eggs Hwang’s team claims to have used.
But the government report backs up other analysis showing the embryonic stem cell researchers seriously underreported the number of human eggs they used.
In January, a panel at Seoul National University, where Hwang’s team was based, found the scientists used 2,061 eggs from 129 donors. A month later, the South Korean National Bioethics Committee determined Hwang and his colleagues used 2,221 eggs from 119 donors.
Whatever the exact number, the three reports make it clear Hwang’s team did not properly report how many eggs it used and how many women were involved. The egg donation process was also riddled with ethical problems, the Herald said.
The government report said Hwang paid millions of dollars to 25 women who provided eggs for his research through the Hanna Women’s Clinic in the first eight months of 2005.
Meanwhile, the government determined Hanyang University Medical Center gave Hwang’s teams human eggs for its research without the consent of donors, a violation of the nation’s bioethics laws.
The Herald reported that the center, which loaned staff to Hwang’s team, gave him 121 human eggs between April and November of last year alone. Some 113 were sent without the consent of the women who donated them.
Last month, two women filed a lawsuit against Hwang’s team saying that had not been properly informed about the medical risks that accompany the painful egg donation procedure. They seek millions of dollars in compensation from the government, Hanyang, and MizMedi.