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S. Korean Stem Cell Expert Apologizes for Ethical Breach
This year, Hwang's team was again hailed for creating Snuppy, the world's first cloned dog. But the ethical allegations persisted. And on Monday, Roh Sung Il, head of Seoul-based MizMedi Women's Hospital, also admitted that he had paid about $1,447 each to 20 women to gather human eggs for Hwang's research.
Roh said that he had not informed Hwang about the payments until recently. The payments, which ended in 2003, were not illegal under existing South Korean laws.
An investigation conducted by South Korea's Health Ministry, whose findings were also released on Thursday, described the donations by Hwang's team members as not "coerced or coaxed" and concluded that there had been "no violation of ethics guidelines" by Hwang's team.
But Hwang had always insisted that the eggs used in his research were from donors who gave them in hopes of helping his work, and not for profit.
He took full responsibility for his mistakes and issued an emotional apology to the nation. Though he will continue with his research, he will step down as head of the World Stem Cell Hub as well as other government-funded scientific groups with which he is now associated.
One of his biggest problems, Hwang said, was that he was setting precedents. "Everything we tried was the world's first," he said. "We were making the very first footprints on a snow-covered field. In that process, we lacked insight into law and ethics. Scientific research should be conducted within the boundaries of ethics, but in reality, there were some cases in which the ethics regulations lag behind development of science."
The South Korean government, which has staunchly backed Hwang, announced the creation Thursday of a new state-run ova bank with firm, closely monitored guidelines. Such a move would mark the first time a nation has taken such an official role in stem cell research, highlighting the scramble by South Korean officials to salvage their country's reputation as the world's leading center for such science.
As of Thursday, 188 women had already officially pledged to donate their eggs to a network organized by a group of South Korean celebrities, politicians and citizen groups set up last week to help Hwang's team.
Cho reported from Seoul.