korea project

Respect for Ova


The word 'ova' has never been discussed so much in our history, not to mention 'thousands of ova'. People with a vague memory of middle school biology class may think that when a woman ovulates, thousands of eggs are produced at once, like sperm in men. They would think, seeing women on TV lining up to donate their eggs, that ova can be given and taken as easily as hair. The media have been so busy glorifying stem cell technology in view of national development that they haven't taken the time to deal with ova-removing procedures or their side effects.

What does it mean to remove eggs from women in order to undertake a certain experiment? The ovum is a reproductive cell that bears the woman's biological identity. They are limited in number, from three to five hundred of them being produced in her whole life. Removing these eggs requires a surgical procedure involving ovarian hyperstimulation, which can cause stomachaches, infertility, ovarian cancer and even lead to death. As the investigation panel discovered, twenty percent of the donors have been to a doctor since having the procedure. One woman in particular even had to quit working because of the side effects. So we have to be careful when we say 'ova removal' because they are not something you can just pick up from the floor. We are taking very valuable cells, limited in number, with someone's biological information through a surgical process that puts the person's health at risk.

Stem cell research requires that much sacrifice from women. Thus the main issue of discussions about this research should concern ova and women's rights to their bodies. Some people maintain that the research should continue in any case, to help patients with incurable diseases. But is it wise to erode people's right to health in an effort to save others? Is stem cell technology really the one and only way to cure those illnesses? Until now Dr. Woo-suk Hwang’s team has not been able to produce one single stem cell, despite using as many as 2,069 ova. How many more should be sacrificed and how many more women should have their health endangered during the course of these experiments? It is more terrifying to think that when we do succeed, we'll need more ova to culture and produce stem cells continuously. Furthermore, because it uses the precious limited human ova the cost will always be too high to make the cure widely available.

Women's bodies are not a tool of science, nor are their eggs an offering for national progress. We should reconsider stem cell research altogether, including Dr. Hwang's. We must ask: is it fair to women’s lives and human rights? Isn't there an alternative? The government should revoke its vow to support stem cell experiments the way it has been. We need time to think this issue over and discuss it widely. That is the least we can do to properly deal with women’s ova, truly the seeds of life.