Revising the Korean Bioethics and Biosafety Act:
Should researchers be prohibited from donating oocytes?
John Michael McGuire
Recent public investigations into the human embryonic stem cell research of Hwang Woo-Suk and his colleagues have brought to light a plethora of ethical problems associated with that research as well as numerous deficiencies in the existing legislation designed to prevent such problems, the Korean Bioethics and Biosafety Act (KBBA). In response to these revelations, the Korean National Bioethics Commission and the Korean Ministry of Health and Welfare are currently in the process of revising the KBBA to ensure that future stem cell research in Korea is carried out in an ethically responsible manner. In this paper I focus on one of the ethical problems raised by Hwang’s research: the issue of oocyte donations by junior researchers. I address the following two questions: 1) Did Hwang violate ethical guidelines in accepting oocyte donations from junior researchers? 2) Should the KBBA be revised to prohibit oocyte donations from junior researchers? With respect to the first question, I argue that, contrary to popular opinion, Hwang did not violate the Helsinki Declaration in accepting oocytes donations from junior researchers. In response to the second question, I argue that the KBBA should indeed be revised to prohibit junior researchers from donating oocytes for research in which they themselves are involved.
Key Words: Korean Bioethics and Biosafety Act, Hwang Woo-Suk, oocyte donors, informed consent, the Helsinki Declaration