pp. 403-404 in Bioethics in Asia

Editors: Norio Fujiki and Darryl R. J. Macer, Ph.D.
Eubios Ethics Institute

Copyright 2000, Eubios Ethics Institute All commercial rights reserved. This publication may be reproduced for limited educational or academic use, however please enquire with the author.

F16. Korean Consciousness on the Handicapped Person and Hereditary Defects

Yung Sun Kang and Chung Choo Lee.

Suwon University, Korea

It can be said that human welfare is attained when there a proper balance between the spiritual and material sides of life is reached. The advance of science and technology has resulted in an increase in the numbers of handicapped persons and persons with genetic deficiencies being born, thus giving rise to changes in moral and ethical awareness. Thus, along with the advances in science and technology, we must incorporate a balanced education concerning moral and ethical issues. In his research, the author has attempted to discern the thinking of Koreans concerning handicapped persons and persons with genetic deficiencies and to then pursue an appropriate bioethical awareness from the standpoint of human welfare.

This survey included responses from 612 Koreans with their sex, age, educational level, religious persuasion and occupation analyzed. This research involved the use of two methods: direct interviews and questionnaires sent by mail. The entire country was represented with respondents coming from both the cities and rural areas. The statistical validity was confirmed by the x2- and the ANOVA tests.

In my research I discovered that approximately one third of the respondents expressed empathy with handicapped persons, but in their personal relations with such people ended up avoiding them when possible and even discriminating against them. With respect to a question that dealt with whether a 3 month-old deformed fetus should be considered to have a human right to life, only 42% indicated they agreed with that, thus indicating a low level of ethical awareness. The result of the ANOVA test indicates that the elderly responders had a much lower positive response. As the main reason for saying that such a fetus does not have the right to live, 78.5% responded that such a handicapped person could not expect to lead a happy life. On the other hand, 68% of those who did give a positive response said that in all cases, the right to life should be respected. Such a response was particularly strong among Christians and those in the liberal arts.

Approximately 60% of the respondents expressed an interest in genetics, while 20% indicated they didn't have much interest in it. Of those who expressed interest, 57% indicated they (primarily) got their knowledge and information about genetics through their school education while 13% said TV and 11% indicated magazines. When asked what emotion they would feel if they were told that they were a carrier of a genetic disorder, 80% indicated they would feel deep shock. This is only natural, I feel. Women, the elderly and those in science and technology each expressed how shocked they would be.

A related question was if the responder were to be given a diagnosis that they were carriers of a genetic deformity whether they would then encourage their siblings to undergo genetic screening. Again, over 80% indicated a positive response. I think this is a very positive sign for the future of genetic counseling. Opinions expressed concerning the system of genetic counseling did not meet our expectations. While knowledge concerning genetics was fairly high, only 25% of the respondents had an understanding of this system. We attribute this to the fact that these responses did not seem to be consistent to a lack of information.

With respect to the abortion issue, there was very little difference in the acceptance of abortion for reasons of the health of the mother, genetic defects in the child or being the result of rape compared to reasons such as economic or not wanting to have more children.

Koreans expressed their desire for the further development of advanced biotechnology along with anything that transforms natural life, but only to the extent that it is used for human welfare. They appeared, however, not to favor cloning technologies due to the inherent dangers they present. With respect to genetic engineering, positive responses were indicated for the following applications at the percentages in parenthesis: genetic screening and genetic therapy (49%), generating increased yields in agriculture, forestry and fisheries (33%), and manufacture of new medicines and materials (14%).

Generally speaking, Koreans say that they maintain harmony with handicapped persons, but we think this is because they support human rights and the right to life. However, about 30% of the respondents expressed doubt concerning this viewpoint. Thus, we feel there is a real need to transform public awareness concerning (human) welfare. Most people appear to be acquiring their interest in genetic diseases by way of their school education. While genetic counseling is occurring nationwide, there is little systematized structure or active concept of it. There is, however, a consensus that advance biological engineering and cloning techniques should be developed only to the extent that they benefit human welfare.

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