Embryos not human, rules Korean high court

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Embryos not human, rules Korean high court

by Michael Cook | Jun 04, 2010 |

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

http://www.bioedge.org/index.php/bioethics/bioethics_article/9029/

BioEdge is a weekly newsletter about cutting-edge bioethical issues. Based in the Southern Hemisphere but speaking to the world, BioEdge is completely independent. www.bioedge.org

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