Hwang and Catholic Church Fail to Agree on Stem cell Research

Seoul, South Korea - Korea’s stem cell pioneer Hwang Woo-suk yesterday met with the nation’s top Catholic leader to discuss ethical aspects of his cloning research, but failed to find a happy medium.

The Seoul National University professor had an hour-long closed-door meeting with Seoul Archbishop Nicholas Cheong Jin-suk, who has been opposed to Hwang’s embryonic stem cell experiments.

The one-on-one discussion at the archbishop’s office in downtown Seoul, however, failed to produce any tangible results.

According to the Seoul Diocese, Hwang and Cheong talked on a variety of topics such as whether or not cloned embryos should be viewed as living and ethical disputes using human eggs in stem cell tests.

``Cheong said he is not against stem cell research itself, as long as it does not involve embryos, which are living beings. It is not true that we totally object to Hwang’s research,’’ Seoul Diocese spokesman Hur Yeong-yup said.

Cheong clearly expressed the Korean Catholic church’s approval on research with adult stem cells, the master cells found in adults, according to Hur.

Yet, experts point out the rationale does not make sense because Hwang has been solely committed to the embryonic stem cell study throughout his career.

``The Catholic stance just means Hwang should put an end to his stem cell research because Hwang has never dealt with adult stem cells,’’ said Park Se-pill, a scientist at Seoul-based Maria Biotech.

Catholic University of Korea professor Lee Dong-ik said the discussion was not aimed at reaching any compromise because of totally different philosophies between the participants.

``The meeting was between a scientist who thinks human embryos must be sacrificed to save lives and a priest who regards embryos as an existence. They just weren’t on the same page,’’ Lee said.

The two-way talks were arranged after Hwang had expressed his willingness to meet Cheong in response to the archbishop’s ethical attack on his embryonic research.

Hwang basked in global limelight early last year by announcing his team created the human embryo for the first time in history and had harvested a stem cell from it.

The 52-year-old surprised the world once again last month by cloning a total of 11 batches of stem cells, which are genetically tailored to patients with critical diseases or disabilities.