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Fraudulent stem cell research and respect for the embryo

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The purpose of this article is to comment upon an interesting gap in the criticism heaped upon Woo Suk Hwang following the revelation that his apparently groundbreaking stem cell research involved both the falsification of data and the unethical recruitment of egg donors. It is, of course, unsurprising that his fraudulent research and a possible breach of the Helsinki Declaration have come under considerable scrutiny. More interesting, in my view, is that there has been very little interest in the fact that human embryos may have been pointlessly destroyed. It is generally believed that research involving human embryos is legitimate only when it serves an important scientific purpose. Hwang’s research could serve no useful scientific purpose, and hence it would be difficult, if not impossible, to justify the destruction of embryos. I ask whether the comparative lack of interest in this aspect of the Korean stem cell research scandal points to a shift in our attitudes towards the instrumental use of the early human embryo.

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