Just when you thought it was safe to open your newspaper again, South Korea's infamous Dr. Woo Suk Hwang, the world's first human cloner, is taking his affront to human dignity to new heights. You will remember that this was the fellow who first obtained stem cells by cloning embryos and "disaggregating" them. Then he cloned the world's first dog. Then he came up with the preposterous idea that scientists should write their own ethics rules. And now he is planning to traffic human embryonic stem cells around the globe.

As The Scientist (an online science news service) notes, not every country will let their scientists buy the cells. But most will. The report singles out Germany and Canada as states that have laws to keep out trafficked stem cells, as well as to forbid cloning back home. Yet it notes that only one or two U.S. states have legislation that would prevent scientists from buying Hwang's stem cells—providing, of course, which they use private (or, in some cases, state) dollars. So the remains of Dr. Hwang's ghoulish experiments, that make human embryos by cloning before pulling them apart for their stem cells, could end up in a lab near you.

Some have wondered why the Koreans have been so successful in the quest for the unholy grail. The online magazine Slate discusses this at surprising length, and it lays out a series of factors that have made Seoul the capital of the soulless world of stem-cell harvesting. Hwang himself credits Korean chopstick competencies that lead researchers to have strong manipulative skills (though this does not explain how Singapore, with its vast biotech investment and equal chopsticking skills, or China, with vastly more skilled hands, have yet to make the grade).

Korea is also unencumbered ...

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Life Matters
Nigel M. de S. Cameron is now president and CEO of the Center for Policy on Emerging Technologies. His "Life Matters" column, a commentary on bioethics issues, ran from 2005 to 2006.
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