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South Koreans Rush to Defend Criticized Cloning Researcher

By James Brooke 
and Choe Sang-Hun


Days after his televised fall from grace, Hwang Woo-suk, South Korea’s cloning pioneer, re-emerged Monday as a national hero as the country rallied around him in an outpouring of nationalism and sympathy for the humanitarian goals of his stem cell research.

“As a mother, I see the world differently,” Hong Na-kyung, 31, a consultant, said when asked why she had signed up to donate her eggs for his laboratory research. “I want to see a better world and a better Korea for my children, and I think Dr. Hwang can help.”

Hong was one of 760 South Korean women who have registered in the last week to donate eggs. The list included an entire high school class of 33 girls. A nonprofit egg donor foundation was started last week after Hwang admitted to covering up the fact that in 2002 and 2003, during a shortage of human eggs for research purposes, two of his junior researchers donated their own eggs, and that about 20 other women had also been paid for donating eggs.

Those ethical violations came out two weeks ago when Gerald Schatten, a prominent researcher at the University of Pittsburgh, abruptly ended a 20-month collaboration with Hwang and released a statement questioning the circumstances under which the eggs had been obtained.

Many South Koreans say Schatten’s criticisms were a useful catalyst for bringing stem cell research here into line with international ethical norms. But some see it as the latest case of the United States bullying South Korea.

“Professor Hwang! Cheer up! The people will look after you,” implores one fan Web site here. “We have to open our eyes wide and protect Dr. Hwang from shrewd American doctors.”

On the site, a field of rose of Sharon, South Korea’s national flower, gives a backdrop to a photograph of Hwang holding Snuppy, the Afghan hound he cloned earlier this year. On another page, a photo of Schatten is shown discarded in a swamp.

No other foreign researchers are known to have broken off ties with Hwang, a world leader in the field.