April 20, 2024


Disgraced Korean stem cell scientist Hwang Woo-suk has admitted that he ordered subordinates to falsify his cloning research. But he has insisted at his trial for embezzlement and violation of bioethics laws that his colleagues should share the blame. Dr Hwang told his staff to make it appear that results were based on 11 embryonic stem cell lines, rather than the two he was actually working on. And it appears that even these two were faked by a junior researcher without his knowledge. They were stem cells from IVF embryos, not clones. "It was definitely wrong," Hwang testified about the faked scientific papers. "I have no intention to escape the overall responsibility, but I feel differently about the view that all responsibility should lie with me as one of over 30 authors".

The lessons of the Hwang case are bitterly disputed in the US, where many scientists are pressing for Federal restrictions on funding for human embryonic stem cell research and cloning to be lifted. In , Robert P. George, of Princeton University, and Eric Cohen, editor of The New Atlantis, argue that the Korean debacle demonstrates that human cloning corrupts science. Human cloning, even for research, is so morally problematic that its practitioners will always be covering their tracks, especially as they try to meet the false expectations of miraculous progress that they have helped create," they argue.

Instead of cloning, George and Cohen suggest that creative science is needed to provide solutions unencumbered by moral dilemmas in this promising field. "Looking ahead, it is becoming increasingly likely that reprogramming adult cells to pluripotency, rather than destroying human embryos, will be the future of regenerative medicine. It offers both a more efficient and far more ethical way forward."

George and Cohen’s reasoning was dismissed by Glenn McGee, editor of the American Journal of Bioethics, in his blog as "silly trickery" intended to scare readers into believing that "nuclear transfer is so evil that it turns everyone who does it into a liar."