pp.147-148 in Human Genome Research and Society
Proceedings of the Second International Bioethics Seminar in Fukui, 20-21 March, 1992.

Editors: Norio Fujiki, M.D. & Darryl R.J. Macer, Ph.D.

Copyright 1992, Eubios Ethics Institute All commercial rights reserved. The copyrights for the employees of the US Government, are subject to other copyright arrangements. This publication may be reproduced for limited educational or academic use, however please enquire with Eubios Ethics Institute.

Situation and prospect of bioethics in Korea

Yung Sun Kang,
Professor, Suwon University, KOREA

Ladies and gentlemen. It is my great pleasure to give a speech at this Second International Seminar on Bioethics, held here in Fukui. I give my sincere thanks to the Organising Committee who invited me to this meeting. As far as I know, the subject of this seminar is concerning the ethical, legal and social issues on human genome research. Since our country, however, is not well involved in the Human Genome Project at this moment, we are not facing the problem of bioethics related to the Human Genome Project yet. Therefore I hesitated to come here. However, the Organising Committee asked me to express my opinion on the Korean attitude for the future activities in about ten minutes, so I finally came here. Therefore, I would like to present shortly to you the present conditions in Korea of research on the Human Genome Project, the genetic counseling system, the research activities on genetic engineering, and also my opinion on the future prospect on the ethical, legal and social issues related to the above subjects in Korea.

First of all, Korean scientists started to have an interest into human genome research since about 1989 on March of the next year, 1990, the Human Genome Research Association of Korea was established to progress the project. All of the scientists in the fields related to the project became members of the association. And then, in 1991, the association obtained the understanding of the Korean government (The Ministry of Science and Technology) and received a small monetary grant from the Korean Government with which the association has conducted preliminary work prior to the real research since 1991. The above association is located in the Korean Genetic Engineering Center in the Daeduck Science City. We belive that the financial support from the government to the human genome research will continue and the real research activities will be started soon.

Secondly, I want to talk about the issues related to genetic counseling in Korea. The issue began to be known to Korean society since 1975 when I was a professor at the Seoul National University and attended with Professor C.C. Lee, the Genetic Counseling Training Workshop in Japan, which was organised by the Genetic Counseling Center under the Japan Family Planning Association. After that time, genetic counseling , mainly concerning chromosomal abnormalities, has been conducted on a small scale at the research institutes belonging to university hospitals or general hospitals.

At the present time, for prenatal diagnosis, amniocentesis and chorionic villus sampling are used. And as well as biochemical analysis, gene amplification by the PCR (polymerase chain reaction) are used for the more accurate analysis for the causes and diagnosis of the genetic diseases. However, the number of places performing genetic counseling are not many, and therefore genetic counseling networks are not well formed.

Korean scientists started to have an interest in genetic engineering since 1980. After the law for promoting genetic engineering has been established, the government has expressed a deep interest in genetic engineering. According to this law, the Korean Genetic Engineering Center has been founded, many universities established departments of genetic engineering, or molecular biology, and/or research institutes for genetic engineering. In addition to these, big industrial companies also established research institutes for genetic engineering and have conducted research in many different directions.

In this situation, the bioethics issue has not arisen so seriously, and the establishment of regulations on genetic manipulation or social movement against the activities is not yet considered an issue yet. One fourth of the Korean population, which is about ten million, are Christians and over another quarter are Buddhists. These religious people think about the dignity of life and principally oppose the manipulation of the human body. Therefore, I think they will be absolutely against artificial abortion, and it is not likely that they will approve the artificial manipulation of life even if it is at the molecular level.

Now I want to talk about eugenics, although it is not directly related to the subject of this seminar. In Korea, to prevent the descendants of persons carrying severe genetic diseases, the eugenical law was established in 1973. However, many people oppose the law and no one has been operated on for such purposes so far.

From several years ago, there have been great debates on the establishment of a law which recognises brain death as death and allows body organs to be transplanted to the body of other persons who require it. But in this year, there is a plan to lay a bill before the National Assembly and to go through with this. However, since the religious world and some of the Korean people are opposed to the establishment of the law, it is not certain that the bill can go through the National Assembly.

From the above background, when research on the afore-mentioned human genome research, genetic counseling and genetic engineering make good and wide progress, the ethical, legal and social issues could become a big topic, even though it does not cause a problem at this moment. At the present time, since the level of education of our country is relatively high in the world, even if the opposition arises, I don't think it will cause a big problem in pursuing these researches.

However, I feel sorry to tell you that I cannot talk about the subject in detail, since we don't have enough data concerning these issues at this time. Thank you.

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