- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 9, 2003

SEOUL, South Korea, Jan. 9 (UPI) — Prosecutors in South Korea have opened an investigation into alleged human cloning activities and said Thursday they would share the results of their probe with the United States.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration had made a formal request for South Korea's cooperation in investigating the Seoul branch of Clonaid, which announced last month that it had produced the world's first cloned baby.

Clonaid has stated that four other women were expected to give birth to clones by early February and reports have speculated that a South Korean is among these expectant women.

Prosecution investigators are trying to confirm testimony from Clonaid officials who said a South Korean woman had indeed been impregnated successfully with the cloned embryo with help from BioFusion Tech, a firm based in the southeastern city of Daegu whose offices were recently searched by authorities.

"Information that we gathered through searches and summons will be offered to the U.S. side," an official at the Seoul District Prosecutor's Office told United Press International.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, the official quoted the FDA as promising a full-scale investigation if any of the information given by South Korea pertained to illegal human cloning within the United States.

The FDA launched its own investigation into Clonaid after the company said late in December one of its participating women gave birth to the world's first cloned baby, a little girl named "Eve."

Clonaid officials insist that three South Korean women applied to have cloned human embryos implanted and that they have located one of them — a former model identified only by her surname, "Kim."

Prosecution investigators confirmed that Kim had testified she applied for the cloning test, but apparently she never was implanted with a cloned embryo.

South Korea has no effective rules banning human cloning, which has touched off worries the country could be used as a base for cloning that is banned elsewhere in the world. Under Korean medical law, researchers can be punished if they are found to be involved in transplants without an obstetrician's license, but there are no provisions for punishing researchers who support such cloning programs.

South Korea's government has moved to enact laws on human cloning, but the issue remains mired in ethical and moral controversy.

Many scientists say research on embryonic stem cells could revolutionize the treatment of diseases such as cancer, Alzheimer's, heart and Parkinson's diseases.

Seo Jeong-sun, head of Macrogen, the country's leading biotechnology firm, said the study of stem-cells will help lead to an epoch-defining event to cure Parkinson's disease, leukemia and cancer, and extend the average span of man's life to 120 years.

"Biotechnology is also a new industrial field that is multi-leveled and is something we can develop without limit; there is no top business without top science," Seo noted.

Religious and human rights groups strongly oppose the government's decision to allow the use of human embryos, saying the research itself is the "harbinger" of huge destruction of human life.

"Over 10 countries around the world, including Japan and China, have already passed a bill prohibiting human cloning," said Kim Sang-hee who has headed a coalition of 67 civic groups applying legislative pressure to ban human cloning over the past five years.

"I cannot help linking human cloning to homicide," said Lee Chang-young, a priest and member of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Korea.

"The government will not allow human cloning, but would permit using human embryos to treat diseases," Health Minister Kim Sung-ho told the National Assembly.

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