SEOUL, South Korea, JUNE 18, 2004 (Zenit.org).- The Korean Ministry of Health and Welfare has allocated a grant of $12 million to a Catholic medical facility for adult stem-cell research.
The grant, designed to give the country a point of reference in cellular medicine, is earmarked for the Institute of Cell and Gene Therapy of the Catholic Medical Center, a hospital affiliated with the Medical School of the Catholic University of Korea.
The Catholic Medical Institute has pledged to develop research on adult stem cells to be used in “therapeutic cloning.”
Oh Il-hwan, the institute’s director, said that “even though the government, on some occasions, supported the study on embryonic stem cells or cloning of somatic cells, this is its first support for study on adult stem cells,” AsiaNews reported.
“Through this project, I hope to propose alternative answers to ethical and social controversies related to stem cell study conducted at home and abroad,” he added.
The work on adult stem cells sheds new light on the bioethics discussion in the country last February, when Hwang Woo-suk of Seoul National University succeeded in extracting stem cells from a cloned human being for the first time.
Religious groups and civilians in Seoul immediately voiced their opposition.
“It is very regrettable that people simply regard it as a scientific achievement, without thinking about the possible result of the misuse and violation of human life. It is disappointing that the government, which should lead in protecting human life, supports such research,” said the Bishop Francis Xavier Ahn Myong-ok, president of the episcopal conference’s Bioethics Committee.
The ethical problem underlying cloning involves the reproduction of a human embryo in order to extract a stem-cell line which might potentially be used to repair organs such as the heart. The human embryo is destroyed during or after the process.
The use of adult stem cells or cells taken from the umbilical cord does not result in the destruction of human life, and has had much more probability of therapeutic success. Such a technique is supported by many scientists and by the Catholic Church.
The Catholic Medical Center is concentrating on adult stem cell study and has made important initiatives, such as hosting international symposiums on stem cells and opening a cell therapy center, collaborating with medical specialists from diverse areas such as hematology, cardiology and neurology.