Roh Sung-il, chief director of Mizmedi Hospital who has collaborated with Hwang Woo-suks team on stem cell research, revealed on November 21 that women who donated eggs for stem cell research were paid.
His remark is expected to create a stir as it reverses Hwangs argument so far that the traded eggs were not used for stem cell research.
Roh held a press meeting at MizMedi Hospital in Seoul on that day. He said that, except for the voluntary egg donators, he paid about 20 women 1.5 million won each with his own funds from 2000 to 2003, and that it was the proper action to take to compensate them for traffic expenses and their lost opportunity costs caused by not being able to work for the 15 days while their eggs were collected.
Roh said that there might have been people with sad stories or economicl difficulty, but he didnt ask them about their personal stories and asserted that such payments are made at 3-5 million won in the U.S. and at three million won in Taiwan legally.
He also maintained that eggs harvested from infertile patients were never used for research without their consent and that remnant eggs after being used for successful conception were properly and legally disposed of.
As such actions were done before the effectuation (January 1, 2005) of the bioethics law which prohibits payments for collecting eggs for the purpose of research, there are no legal problems. However, ethical accusation that traded eggs were used for stem cell research may not be avoidable.
Roh added that in 2002, when he started to collaborate with Hwang, a stem cell itself was not known, and it was very hard to obtain eggs, adding that even though he knew that ethical criticism would occur, he made the decision without consultation with professor Hwang.
Regarding this, MBC will broadcast the PD notebook in which David Cyranoski, a journalist of the magazine Nature who raised suspicion that Hwangs team members donated eggs, explains the circumstances in detail.
Roh said that professor Hwang may not have known about the egg donations in exchange for compensation at the time of his first thesis, and that he cannot remember exactly when he informed Hwang of the fact.