Untitled Document

Envisioning the Human Rights of Women
in the Age of Biotechnology and Science
[International Forum]
20~21, September, 2006
Seoul, Korea
Untitled Document

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Project Background

The latest Hwang Woo-Suk scandal demonstrated not only what outcome the result-oriented development of biotechnology for the national interest brought about but also how the unethical conduct of research infringed women's human rights and used women's bodies as a tool. Although ethical issues surrounding multiple egg extraction have been raised at the early stages of Hwang Woo-Suk's embryo stem cell research, this debate was regarded as an obstacle in the way of the therapeutic cloning research with hype as 'the first in the world'. An estimated 2,000 eggs had been offered to the team led by Dr. Hwang, which is unparalleled in the globe, and women's human rights had not been taken into account in the process.

There has existed an argument that along with advanced genetic engineering, ethical standards of scientific technology targeted at human being should be provided and human rights should be protected. In a series of events in relation to Hwang's embryo cloning research, however, Korean society set high value on its results only. The logic to raise its industrial competitiveness and be able to treat incurable diseases dominated Korean society, who has never taken the problem seriously that egg extraction procedures can pose risks to women's health. The egg extraction via controlled ovarian hyper stimulation involves painful surgical treatments with general anesthesia. According to a recent study, 17.7 percent of egg donors for Hwang's research team have suffered Ovarian Hyper Stimulation Syndrome (OHSS).

The reason that the research results were considered to be important and the serious violation of women's human rights could be ignored in the incidents is that profound discussion and reflection on biotechnology and women's bodies have gone unnoticed. Although the fact that biotechnology could turn women's bodies into tools becomes reality beyond concerns and predictions, there is no national consensus to protect women's human rights by providing ethical criteria and regulations. Accordingly, for such an unprecedented event in history not to occur any more, it may be necessary to pursue a lively discussion on and interest in ethical and human rights issues in biotechnology which have been hidden by research products until now. As seen in the egg donation debate, women's role in the process will be more of importance in a way that women could be both beneficiaries and objects.

Furthermore women's human rights issue related to biotechnology does not limit itself to a country only. The recent cases showed that Japanese couples purchased human eggs in Korea, and British women obtained eggs from Rumania. If cloning embryo stem cell research is extended into all over the world, there will be a strong possibility that foreign researchers may go to Korea which is the 'easiest country in the world to seek eggs for research cloning purposes.

Therefore, through an international forum on the subject of 'Biotechnology and Women's Bodies', Korean WomenLink wants to make a starting point for forming public opinion and arranging women's point of view and positions on biotechnology which have been neglected so far. First of all, we will reveal actual conditions on how the Hwang Woo-Suk scandal infringed on women's human rights and arouse discussion to shape a new discourse on reproductive rights attracting attention regarding women's bodies in the latest events. Such processes will have concrete plans and actions made in the biotechnology application for the purpose of achieving women's rights to bodies and health. As the technology is making progress all over the world, the discussions can be enriched with a wide range of countries, organizations and individuals participating with different sensibilities to women's human rights and peculiar social and cultural climate.

Purpose

Go through a variety of aspects of how the violation of women's human rights and rights to women's health happened in Korea society in the midst of blind support and financial assistance for biotechnology, especially, cloning embryo stem cell research, through the Hwang Woo-Suk case and make a ground for public opinion on this issue.

Stir up discussion on reproductive rights rising to the surface in relation to women's human rights in the advance of biotechnology and form a new discourse on reproductive rights.

Discuss concrete plans and measures to secure rights to women's bodies in the application ofbiotechnology and provide the guidelines for egg extraction procedures and so on for 'multiple egg extraction issues' disclosed in the Hwang Woo-Suk scandal to be prevented from repetition.

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