Thursday, December 1, 2005


This is an odd piece of news coming out of South Korea that's not surprising. If there was a reporter and news program in the U.S. that uncovered an unethical researcher, there might accolades throw at them depending on the severity of the violations involved and then maybe protests against the affiliated research center. What happens in South Korea? People rally against the TV station, death threats are sent to the producers of the show, and 11 companies pull their advertising!

Almost seems like a segment out of The Twilight Zone for those of us in the U.S. and other similar nations, but South Korea is a nation that is still developing where nationalism outweights ethical and moral principles. Sometimes such fervent emotions for their nation is admirable, but when it blinds them to ignore unethical actions and even support them for "the good of a nation" it is a set back in its development as a democracy and global leader.

This news story also reminds me of the recent situation where corruption charges against some members of the Doosan family, a major chaebol (conglomerate), were dropped because it was stated that their contributions to Korea were invaluable as a chaebol. This was a horrible precedent because it practically gives free license to the major chaebols in Korea to do what they want. Illegal money management? Sure, go ahead, you're a chaebol that helps our nation so we'll just ignore those bad things you do!

All this is very disappointing for this Korean American.

South Koreans have rallied behind cloning pioneer Hwang Woo-suk after he admitted ethical lapses, with hundreds of women volunteering to donate eggs for research and supporters threatening a TV show reporting on the case.

The stem cell research center that Hwang led before resigning said Tuesday it hoped he would return, even though his lapses could hurt its efforts to work with other research institutions.

Hwang, who garnered international renown for his breakthroughs in stem cell research and cloning, has not reported to his office since apologizing last week for accepting egg donations from two junior scientists in his lab. He had denied those allegations for more than a year.

Under generally accepted international guidelines, scientists are warned to be cautious in allowing subordinates to be subjects for research because of concerns about possible coercion.

Still, the ethics controversy has generated huge public support for Hwang in South Korea, where he is viewed as a national hero. A growing number of volunteers are offering eggs.

"So far more than 700 South Korean women have pledged to donate their eggs and the number is steadily rising," said Lee Sun-min, an official at a private foundation launched last week to promote egg donations.

A TV station that reported on the controversy has attracted public anger, causing President Roh Moo-hyun to express concern about a climate of intolerance.

MBC television said last week it obtained documents from Hwang's lab showing possibly hundreds of human eggs had been bought for the research. The egg buying was not illegal at the time, but Hwang previously insisted that all eggs for his work were given by donors enthusiastic to see his work proceed.

Some of his supporters threatened in online message boards to kill family members of producers of the program, and 11 firms pulled advertising from the news magazine show.

"I am concerned about our society, which doesn't know tolerance," Roh wrote Sunday in a message posted on his office's Web site. "Protest messages and phone calls can be made ... but cancellation of advertisements showed things went too far and a social fear that does not tolerate resistance has been created."
(full article)

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