Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Korea's Constitutional Court Says Pre-Embryos Are Not Humans

South Korea's Bioethics and Biosafety Act, Art. 16 and 17, permit excess embryos that have been fertilized in vitro for purposes of assisted reproduction to be used for research for specified medical and reproductive purposes, so long as the embryo has not developed beyond 14 days. Consent of the donors is required, and that consent can later be withdrawn. The statute also calls for disposal of embryos that have been stored longer than five years. No donor consent is required for this. On May 27, South Korea's Constitutional Court upheld these provisions, finding that they "do not violate the right of life of human beings." The Court held: "Although we acknowledge the basic rights of fetuses before birth, pre-embryos, which have been fertilized but within which the 'primitive streak' has not yet formed, cannot be regarded as humans."

The ruling came in a case filed by a married couple from whom three embryos had been produced in vitro. One was implanted in the wife, and the other two were to be used for research pursuant to a consent originally filed by the couple. The couple, however, changed their minds and brought suit to vindicate the rights of the remaining embryos. Joining them as plaintiffs were eleven others, including doctors, ethicists and philosophers. The two embryos were also named as plaintiffs. The Life Committee of the Catholic Diocese of Seoul denounced the Court's decision. Various aspects of the decision are reported on by The Hankyoreh (May 28); Korea Times (May 27); JoongAng Daily (May 28); and CathNews (May 31).