korea project

Press Conference on the Establishment of a Reporting Center for Problems relating to
Ova Removal, and a Lawsuit for Compensation: Summary Report

6 February 2006


The press conference was held on Monday, February 6, 2006, at the Zelkova Tree Café in An-kook dong, Seoul. It was called by 36 women’s groups, under the leadership of the national coalition Korean Women’s Associations United (KWAU). The moderator was KWAU Director of Policy Department Kim Ki Sun-mi.

The program included:
Introduction of participants and a progress report - Kim Ki Sun-mi
1. Statement 1: 'Establishment of a Reporting Center for Damages from Ova Removal ' - You Kyung-hee (Korean Womenlink)
2. Statement 2: 'Work Plan for a Lawsuit to Claim Damages' - Kim Jin (Lawyers for a Democratic Society)
3. Announcement of a Joint Statement - Cha Kyung-hee (Korean YWCA), Yi Mi-young (Korean Women's Environmental Network)
4. Q&A

Statement 1:
Establishment of a Reporting Center on Problems related to Ova Removal

As the investigation into Dr. Hwang's research progresses, cases of serious problems resulting from procedures for ova removal have been disclosed. According to the announcement of the National Bioethics Committee on February 2, 2006, 14 of 79 women who had their eggs removed in MizMedi hospital have since received hospital treatment for Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome (OHSS). Two were even hospitalized. One woman in particular, a multiple ‘donor,’ was hospitalized twice, as each time the procedure was done she experienced severe side effects. Han-yang University hospital ultimately removed her ovary and gave it to Hwang's research team.

However, specific information on how the women have suffered is still not known. Researchers, the authorities and the government, all of whom have the duty of “making efforts to make sure that biotechnology does not harm the safety, dignity and the values of human beings,” as is stated in the Bioethics Law, are unwilling to take responsibility. The pain is for the women to bear alone.

Thus women's groups which have raised the issues of women's health and human rights in the course of development of biotechnology, have decided to collect women's experiences with ova removal through the establishment of a reporting center.

The center will be able to publicize the practices threatening women's health and rights and demand establishment of a national system to prevent them. Lawyers for a Democratic Society will file a lawsuit to claim damages for those who have suffered after offering ova for Dr. Hwang's research.

The center welcomes reports from all who have their eggs removed, such as infertility patients, not only those donors related to Hwang's research. The records will help clarify what OHSS and other symptoms are, to help find a way to cure the victims and minimize the damage in the long run.

1. Time period of action: February 6 – 28, 2006
2. Way to report: phone calls or internet
3. Phone number: Korean Womenlink, 02-736-8020 (from Feb 6)
4. Online: www.womenlink.or.kr/nanja.php (from Feb 7)

Those Immediately Concerned
1. Women who have experienced side effects after removal of their eggs in the course of treatment for infertility
2. Women who have experienced side effects after removal of their eggs for Dr. Hwang's research
3. Women who had their ovaries removed for Dr. Hwang's research

Information to report
1. The date when the ova was removed
2. The purpose of the operation
3. The name of people/agency/hospital who did the operation
4. The symptoms: what kind of pain or side effects, whether the woman was hospitalized or not, etc
5. The reasons to decide on an ova-removing procedure: doctor's suggestion, monetary problems, willingness to donate, etc.
6. Whether or not offered money
7. Agreement procedures
- Were the possible side effects of the operation fully explained?
- Were they asked to sign a written agreement?
- Were the side effects explained in writing on the agreement form?
- Was the woman informed about how the ova were going to be used?

Statement 2:
Work Plan for a Lawsuit to Claim Damages

Lawyers for a Democratic Society and thirty-five women's groups are gathering reports of personal injury from ova removal in order to file a claim.

Although the specifics have not yet been obtained from the National Bioethics Committee's investigation into Dr. Hwang's team, we believe that there was a violation of the Bioethics Law, with resulting pain and suffering.

Once there are enough cases, we will go over the related laws to see if there were any violations or negligence before we decide on the specifics needed to file a suit, and to know if a case should be brought, against whom, and for what amount of compensation.

Through the litigation we hope that the victims can be relieved of some of their physical and spiritual pains and that it can be determined how the illegal acts occurred and who was responsible.

However the major goal of our action is not monetary compensation but to publicize the social practices of trivializing women's rights to their bodies - especially the right to make informed decisions when it comes to their health. We expect that this action, by shedding light on the suppressed truths and holding the people in charge responsible, will lay the basis for establishing a system to supervise the use of biological information.

Work plan
- January 31, 2006: interview the victims and review related laws
- February 2, 2006: meeting of the women's rights committee under Lawyers for a Democratic Society and women's groups
- February 6, 2006: press conference on opening the reporting center for ova-removal victims
- February: collecting cases of pain and hardship via the reporting center
- March: review related laws, file a suit

There will be another press conference before a suit is filed, to inform the press of the specifics of the litigation.

Joint Statement:
The Government Should Compensate Ova Donors For Their Pain and Suffering

According to an announcement by the National Bioethics Committee on February 2, 2006, more than half of the 2,221 ova used in Dr. Hwang's research were purchased and in some cases brokers were even involved.

More shocking is that some women had their ova taken repeatedly - four times for one woman in particular - and that the procedure was even done to a woman who had already been hospitalized for side effects from the first ova removal operation.

This shows us just how stem cell research, the nation's so-called next growth industry, has developed at full speed without any consideration of women's rights whatsoever.

Twenty percent of all ova donors, who were not adequately informed about risks of the procedure, have experienced side effects. Two women had to be hospitalized. However when they conducted their investigation the Prosecutor's Office still ignored the question of how the ova were procured on the grounds that this issue was 'not on the priority list.' Similarly, the government's effort to relieve the donors' physical and psychological pains has been nonexistent.

We women's groups have been vocal about the violation of women's rights committed in infertility facilities, such as ova trading and sloppy supervision of leftover eggs, and demand the tightening of related laws and systems. Government negligence has caused women's basic human rights to be threatened, as we witness today.

Even after the Bioethics Law went into effect, the National Bioethics Committee has not been able to function properly because of its problematic membership. The Ministry of Health and Welfare also neglected its supervisory duty, as evidenced by its announcement that there were no ethical problems in Dr. Hwang's experiments, based on the SNU Veterinary College's biased investigation. Violation of ova donors' rights can thus be attributed to the authorities' abandonment of responsibility, which has forced us to demand government compensation for them.

Therefore, we thirty-five women's groups and the women's rights committee under Lawyers for a Democratic Society are establishing a reporting center for ova donors who are suffering from the after-effects of ova-removal operations, with a view to pressing charges against the government.

Through the center we will collect testimonies on how the operations affected the patients physically and psychologically, in an effort to cure them. Hopefully this will be a wakeup call to our society, which has so long disregarded women's rights to control over their bodies, and a step towards reforming the institutions to prevent such tragedies from ever happening again.

February 6, 2006

Korean Womenlink, Korea Women's Associations United(KWAU), Korean YWCA, Kyung-gi Women's Associations United, Kyung-nam WAU, Chon-nam WAU, Kyung-buk WAU, Busan WAU, Chon-buk WAU, Kyung-nam Women's Association, Korea Association of Christian Women for Women Minjung, Dae-gu Women's Association, Dae-jon Women's Association For Democracy, Busan Counseling Center against Sexual Violence, Busan Women Education Center, The Korean Catholic Women's Community for a New World, Saewoomtuh for Prostituted Women, Suwon Women's Association, Anyang Women's Association, Women Education Center, Ulsan Women's Association, Women Migrants Human Rights Center, Korean Women Peasants Association, Jeju Women's Association, Chung-buk Womenlink (http://www.womenlink.or.kr/english/), Women Making Peace, Pohang Women's Association, Korea Sexual Violence Relief Center, Korean Women Workers Associations United, Korea Women's Institute, Korean Association of Women Theologians, Korea Women's Hotline, Differently Abled Women United, Housewives' Association, Women's Rights Committee (Lawyers for Democratic Society)