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The Case of Human Cloning at Kyunghee University Research Paper

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Updated: May 4th, 2022


The Case of Human Cloning

In 1998, Kyunghee University Medical Center (KUMC) attempted to clone a human being using an embryo. KUMC attempted to clone human embryos twice within two months. According to the Korean Academy of Medical Sciences, KUMC made the first attempt on 20th November 1998 after collecting numerous ova from patients who visited the center (1). The patients normally visited the center to receive in vitro fertilization but did not know their ova were being used in research to clone a human being. Fortunately, one patient who went to receive the in vitro fertilization revealed that the medical center had collected 23 ova and used them in experiments. Although the researchers used 20 ova in conducting in vitro fertilization, they utilized the remaining three ova in an attempt to clone a human using embryo. The researchers subjected the three ova to the process of cloning. However, the researchers were unable to clone a human being using the embryo because the nuclear transfer of genetic material failed. This paper explores the ethical issues surrounding human cloning coupled with outlining the major achievements in this field of research. The paper centers mainly on the attempts by Kyunghee University Medical Center to clone a human being in 1998 and the controversies surrounding the case.

After conducting more research on embryo cloning, the researchers decided to attempt another cloning the following month. On 7th December 1998, the researchers collected 16 ova from another patient and subjected them through the same process of in vitro fertilization and cloning. Although the researchers used three ova in the cloning of an embryo, they only managed to clone one successfully. A single ovum went through the cloning process successfully where researchers managed to transfer nuclear material from it into another ovum (Korean Academy of Medical Sciences 1). Incubation of the cloned embryo allowed it to develop into a four-celled embryo after which its growth halted. The researchers discarded the remaining two ova because they were unable to transfer the nuclear material successfully. Eventually, the researchers used one ovum in cloning a human embryo, which successfully developed into the four-celled stage of human embryo development.

Having made such achievements in the cloning of human embryos, KUMC released the findings to the public claiming that they had successfully cloned human embryos. On 14th December 1998, the Korean media reported that KUMC had performed human cloning by transferring the somatic cell nucleus into the ovum. The news triggered much interest from scientific bodies in various parts of the world including Korea. To confirm the credibility of the findings, the Korean Academy of Medical Sciences formed an ad hoc committee to look into the claims of human cloning and the process of cloning employed. The ad hoc committee examined the process of cloning that KUMC utilized and concluded, “…the research team did not disclose acceptable evidence … the committee was unable to confirm the claims that the human embryo cloning was successfully undertaken to the four-cell stage” (1). In this case, KUMC was unable to furnish the committee with relevant information about embryo cloning because they used only one ovum in their research.

When the Korean Medical Association received the report from the committee, it sided with the committee’s conclusion and expressed concerns about the supposedly successful human cloning that KUMC carried out. According to the Korean Academy of Medical Sciences, although biotechnology is vital in improving human health and treating incurable diseases, researchers must perform their experiments using clear research design and guidelines while complying with ethical guidelines (1). In the case study, KUMC did not have a credible scientific design in performing the study because researchers could not determine whether they had cloned an embryo or not. Moreover, the researchers based their conclusions about successful cloning on a single embryo, which is quite unscientific. Thus, the human cloning incident by KUMC triggered numerous implications in the medical field.

The outcome of the Case

The case of human cloning at KUMC triggered reactions from the scientific field because many scientists never believed that human cloning was possible then. Examination and assessment of the human cloning process, which KUMC applied shows that a valid scientific basis did not exist for the researchers to go ahead and manipulate the ova. Since the scientists were performing in vitro fertilization, mere curiosity drove them to use the available ova to attempt cloning of an embryo. Moreover, the researchers at KUMC used only one embryo to perform successful human cloning where an embryo was divided into the four-celled stage. After performing a single experiment of cloning an embryo, the KUMC researchers concluded that they had cloned a human embryo. Such an experiment void of scientific basis, design, and validity is against the principles of scientific research.

After careful analysis of the report from the committee, the Korean Medical Association observed that KUMC had no objective evidence to show whether they followed a credible cloning process in removing and transferring the nucleus into a somatic cell. Brown argues that the cloning of human beings is more complicated; for instance, researchers at Roslin made 227 attempts to produce 29 embryos out of which only one managed to develop into the Dolly sheep (652). In contrast, the researchers at KUMC made two attempts at embryo cloning and claimed that only one embryo managed to develop into the four-celled stage of cell development. Such findings do question the scientific process of cloning in terms of the credibility, validity, and reliability of the findings.

The objective of the KUMC in the research was to conduct in vitro fertilization of the ova but the researchers went ahead and performed human cloning using some of the ova that they had obtained from the patients. Haphazard manipulation of ova draws in the question of ethical issues surrounding the research coupled with how researchers should abide with the ethics while performing experiments that involve humans. There is no evidence that the patients signed a consent form to allow the use of their ova in human cloning. In this case, the researchers performed unethical research because they used human ova in performing other experiments apart from in vitro fertilization. MacKinnon asserts that experiments that involve human subjects must comply with the principles of informed consent (11). The case of human cloning did not comply with the principles of informed consent because researchers intended to use donated ova in performing in vitro fertilization, but ended up using some in human cloning. In this view, it implies that human cloning was not part of their research objectives. Therefore, KUMC did not comply with ethical principles of informed consent when they attempted to clone a human embryo.

The claims of human cloning at KUMC also elicited controversy about human cloning. According to the Korean Academy of Sciences, if researchers do not adhere to ethical and scientific principles, human cloning may lead to grave consequences for the outcomes of cloning create problems that degrade human dignity (1). Currently, social, religious, and political views regarding human cloning are against human cloning. Critics of human cloning regard the practice as an unethical act that not only degrades human dignity, but also violates rights and freedom of a clone since an individual takes the responsibility of determining genomic composition of another being. In their objections to cloning, Kanchan, Kumar, Kumar, and Das argue that human cloning is an unnatural process that degrades human dignity and abuses individual rights in determining the genomic composition of a person (126). A person must have inalienable rights to exist naturally, rather than being an object of scientific experiments in a laboratory. For human dignity to prevail, researchers must consider the ethical implications of their experiments at individual and societal levels.

The case of human cloning by KUMC also brought up the issue of the relationships between the media and research. When KUMC released the findings of their research, the Korean media picked the news and made it public that KUMC had made successful cloning of a human embryo. Usually, scientists release and publish their results in peer-reviewed journals but KUMC did not publish their findings in peer-reviewed journals. Korean scientists were skeptical when they heard claims that KUMC had cloned human embryos yet it had not published the study in peer-reviewed journals (The Korean Academy of Medical Sciences 1). Moreover, the release of the research findings into the media did not only attract the attention of the scientists, but also the public. The news alarmed the public because people did not know that human cloning experiments were taking place in a laboratory. The attempts of human cloning performed by KUMC researchers were not valid scientifically because they neither complied with scientific nor ethical principles. Thus, release of invalid and incredible findings into the media without passing through a review process would misguide the public and complicate the issue of human cloning in society.

Implications of the Case

The case of human cloning resulted in several implications in medical research. As the KUMC researchers experimented with human cloning, they did not have a scientific basis for they had not designed the experiment well. For scientific experiments to be valid and credible, they must adhere to scientific principles that are necessary for performing the research. Poorly designed researches give incredible and invalid results that are not worth generalization and extrapolation to the general population. It was unscientific for KUMC to use two ova and claim that they had managed to clone human embryos. As cloning technology has benefits in medical research, its use must comply with scientific principles. The application of cloning technology has significant importance in medical research because researchers can generate effective therapies and improve reproduction (Kanchan, Kumar, Kumar, and Das 125). Hence, cloning experiments should comply with all scientific principles of research to come up with credible and valid findings.

Another implication of the case of human cloning at KUMC touched on the ethical issue that researchers must comply with before embarking on research involving humans as subjects or participants. From the report of the committee that investigated the claims of human cloning, it is evident that KUMC was dealing with in vitro fertilization. To carry out in vitro fertilization, the researchers had to collect ova from patients who attended the center and request their services. However, KUMC researchers went ahead and performed human cloning using ova that remained from the process of in vitro fertilization. This scenario indicates that KUMC researchers violated the principle of informed consent for the patients who were not aware that the researchers used their ova in human cloning. Following the claims of human cloning, the Korean Medical Association deferred any experiment that uses human ova until it prepared guidelines to regulate human cloning (The Korean Academy of Medical Sciences 1). Thus, in Korea, researchers that use human ova must comply with guidelines that the Korean Medical Association has prepared.

The case of human cloning at KUMC ignited a controversy on the morality of cloning a human embryo. Human cloning is a controversial issue that has prompted leaders in political and religious circles to declare it illegal. Although the cloning technology has significant benefits in the development of effective therapies against molecular diseases, many people still object to the application of the cloning technology in research (Brown 676). In this view, the use of biotechnology for biomedical research is different from the use of cloning technology for reproduction. Hence, laws and regulations must differentiate the two for scientists to continue researching effective therapies that cure molecular diseases such as Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease amongst many others. MacKinnon adds that there should be regulations that guide researchers in both animal and human cloning so that researchers do not perform cloning experiments haphazardly (11). Therefore, one can conclude that human cloning is under regulation and would be illegal for any researcher to perform cloning experiments without complying with laid down regulations.

Since the media played a role in the dissemination of the research findings to the public that KUMC had managed to clone a human embryo without verifying the credibility of the study, it attracted undue attention from the public. The role that the media played questioned the procedure of releasing and publishing new scientific findings. Instead of releasing and publishing the results through peer-reviewed journals, KUMC released the information directly to the media, which then presented the news to the public without double-checking the validity of human cloning claims. According to Kanchan, Kumar, Kumar, and Das, institutional ethics committee should provide guidelines that researchers must follow when performing all activities in research activities (126). Hence, all research activities should comply with regulations that the institutional ethics committee has provided to guide the research process.


The case of human cloning at KUMC indicates that human cloning is still a controversial issue because researchers are likely to abuse the cloning process to gain selfish interests. Scientists are human and thus subject to manipulation to gain personal exploits without considering the set protocols. In the light of this knowledge, cloning technology has significant benefits in the medical field; however, unethical practices that emanate from human cloning prevent researchers from exploring the benefits thereof. Nevertheless, to gain the potential benefits of cloning technology, effective regulations should be in place to bar scientists from engaging in unethical practices of cloning humans.

Works Cited

Brown, Barry. “Human cloning and genetic engineering: The case for proceeding cautiously.” Albany Law Review 65.0 (2002): 649-677. Print.

Kanchan, Tanuj, Mohan Kumar, Ashish Kumar, and Sanhjoy Das. “Multifaceted aspects of human cloning.” JK Science, Journal of Medical Education & Research 8.3 (2006): 125-128. Print.

MacKinnon, Barbara. Human cloning: science, ethics, and public policy. New York: University of Illinois, 2001. Print.

The Korean Academy of Medical Sciences. “Incident of ‘human cloning’ from Kyunghee University Medical Center.” Journal of Korean Medical Science 4.1 (1999): 1. Print.

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