09 marzo 2006

Hearing Examines South Korean Scandal's Effect on Stem Cell Research

By Mark Adams

At a hearing yesterday Rep. Mark Souder strongly berated scientists and bureaucrats testifying at a Congressional hearing for minimizing a recent stem cell scandal, telling them "don't treat us like little children" and "don't BS us." The comments came at a hearing examining the impact of the revelations that Dr. Woo Suk Hwang, a South Korean scientist who had been hailed as pioneer in the field of embryonic stem cell research, fabricated almost all of his data and had coerced women into donating their eggs for research.

In attempting to defend embryonic stem cell research in general, three representatives from the Department of Health and Human Services said that many other scientific fields have been victims of research hoaxes including the field of cardiology. These comments prompted Souder's angry reproach. Souder said Hwang's research was the only research that was supportive of the new and morally controversially field of cloning and embryo destructive research while cardiology is an established field with substantial amounts of verified research.

The hearing drew a standing room only crowd and numerous members of the South Korean media were present. In his opening statement Souder, the subcommittee chairman, laid out the reasons why the Hwang scandal has broader implications on the entire endeavor of embryo destructive research. "This scientific scandal is not an isolated incident of fabrication, without real application to US research efforts," he said. "Rather, it highlights the serious, inherent potential problems with research cloning and embryonic stem cell research, including but not limited to: exploitation, fraud, and coercion. The incident is a siren warning against proceeding in these research areas without most cautiously examining the societal costs necessarily associated with it. It would be quite disingenuous to say otherwise."

Richard Doerflinger, deputy director of pro-life activities for the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, laid out three lessons from the Hwang scandal in his testimony. First, he said, was the scientific lesson that there has been almost no progress in the field of embryonic stem cell research. "This is at least the third time in eight years that we have heard announcements of success in cloning human embryos for their stem cells, only to find that the claim has little basis in fact," he said.

Doerflinger said the "political lesson from the Korean scandal, and from scandalous behavior here in the United States, is that political leaders, patient advocacy groups, and all of us must stop hearing only what we want to hear about 'miracle cures.' We need to be aware of the human costs of this agenda here and now, not only its alleged 'promise' down the road." Finally, Doerflinger said, the Hwang scandal has an ethical lesson. "By demeaning life, we learn to demean truth, rendering science itself meaningless." Policy makers, he said, should "begin with a complete ban on human cloning, and with legislation to prevent the mistreatment of women as egg factories for research or as surrogate incubators for unborn children being grown for their body parts."

The hearing also revealed a new strategy for those supporting embryo destructive research. Advocates of the procedure repeatedly said that the Hwang scandal is proof that the US should provide federal funds for the research so that there can be greater government oversight.

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