May 20, 2024

Embryos not human, rules Korean high court

Upholds mandatory disposal after 5 years

Shares in stem cell research companies
surged on the South Korea’s stock market after its constitutional court ruled last
week that surplus IVF embryos were not human life forms and could be used for
research or destroyed. The law had been challenged by a couple who had been
shocked to find that their embryos had been used for research. They were joined
in the suit by a group of pro-life academics.  

“Embryos that are less than 14 days
from insemination have the potential to become a human being but have no
independent humanity. They should not be granted the same constitutional rights
as a human being,” Lee Kang-kook, president of the Constitutional Court, declared.
The court also decided that while parents have to approve the use of their
gametes to create embryos, they have no legal relation to the embryo after its
creation, unless it is implanted in a woman’s womb.

The court also reaffirmed that surplus IVF
embryos must be destroyed after five years and that hospitals or clinics do not
need the approval of sperm or egg providers to do so. “If there is no
expiration period for storing frozen embryos, there is a chance that they might
be used for inappropriate research purposes,” the court said.

“This is the first time that the
Constitutional Court has made a legal assessment on whether to look at
early-stage embryos as human entities,” said Noh Hui-beom, an information
officer at the Constitutional Court.

The Korea stem cell industry was jubilant. Currently,
the global stem cell treatment market is estimated at around US$40 billion.
Most of this is involved with cosmetic practices to remove wrinkles and
rejuvenate skin, as well as the speeding up wound healing. The government last
year announced that it will treble funding for embryonic stem cell research by
2015. Korea
Times, May 27
; Joong Ang
Daily, May 28
; translation of decision
by Chan Jin Kim

Michael Cook
stem cell research