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An Encounter Between Religion and Biotechnology

Posted June. 16, 2005 03:04,   


Professor Hwang Woo-suk of Seoul National University and Archbishop Chung Jin-suk of the Seoul Catholic Parish met on the afternoon of June 15 at the office of bishops in Myeong Dong Catholic Cathedral. The two, who have demonstrated differences in opinion over human embryonic stem cell research, had a broad dialogue on bioethics issues like stem cell research and the use of women’s eggs.

They agreed on the principle, “Scientists should respect human life in any case,” and decided to make efforts to help science and religious circles build mutual understanding. In particular, they reached a consensus on complementary research on embryonic and adult stem cells.

Archbishop Chung said in the meeting, “The Catholic Church considers conception as the beginning of human life and the destruction of an embryo as that of a human,” adding, “We also define Professor Hwang’s embryonic stem cells as human embryos.”

In response, Professor Hwang explained in detail, “The SNU research team harvested skin cells from patients of incurable diseases and harvested stem cells from the skin cells, using nucleus transplants of body cells. The stem cells have never undergone the process of conceiving. Also, they cannot develop into life, as there’s no possibility of implantation.”

Chung said, “In many cases, it is hard to apply conventional ethics disciplines to state-of-the-art science research. Scientists’ consciences and social responsibility are important also in biotechnology,” adding, “As a scientist, please accept and respect social concerns and recommendations with an open mind.”

In the closed-door meeting which lasted for 50 minutes, Professor Ahn Kyu-ri of SNU medical school and a catholic also attended as a member of Hwang’s team.

Hwang responded, “I expected to be scolded, but received blessings and teachings. I am very grateful,” adding, “The archbishop gave me much help in setting the direction of future research. I’d like to frequently meet with him and solicit his advice.”

Professor Ahn made it clear he would continue embryonic stem cell research while explaining the outcome of the meeting that day. She said, “There are people suffering from incurable diseases that cannot be cured by adult stem cell research. Whether it is adult stem cell or embryonic stem cell research, a treatment that can cure patients is the right treatment. We should open our doors to both types of research.”

Her remarks reveal that there is a gap in the opinions of the two sides, although the meeting served as a catalyst for dialogue between religion and science.

Jeong-Gook Yoon jkyoon@donga.com