Human Flower Project
Cell-based delivery can take on different meanings depending on context. For instance, in South Korea, over 100 women pledged to deliver their egg cells to Hwang Woo, the famous Korean scientist who is caught up in a cell procurement controversy. Hwang resigned from the World Stem Cell Hub after claims were made that he had improperly obtained human eggs. The women marched on the Seoul National University, cornered the cloning research team, and presented a framed photograph of Dr. Hwang surrounded by 100 funeral flowers, roses of Sharon, to symbolize their support and grief. In South Korea, such an act is seen as one of self-sacrifice.
Hwang led an effort last year to successfully clone a human stem cell. This year, he produced the first cloned dog, Snuppy. But Hwang has been hit with allegations that he ran a pay-for-egg mill and that he pressured junior colleagues to donate their eggs. Hwang promptly resigned and offered the following statement:
“Being too focused on scientific development, I may not have seen all the ethical issues related to my research.”
The government of South Korea has flatly stated that Hwang has not done anything illegal.
The flowery demonstration was organized by the Internet fan club “I Love Hwang-woo-suk”, and it demonstrates flower power, South Korean style. It was lost on no one that in addition to being internationally recognized as gifts, flowers are also the sexual organ of plants. The plant equivalent of the human ova is the ovulues, which grow safe and protected inside blossoms. The ovules contain the plant’s sexual germ cells, equivalent to human eggs. When fertilized by male sex germs, the equivalent of human sperm cells, they become seeds which germinate to become the next generation of the plant. Thus, the flower ceremony was a symbolic and real cell-based delivery of female reproductive cells.
Hwang is known worldwide for his cutting-edge research into stem cell science, an area that in some countries has been controversial. The flower-for-egg ceremony was deemed to be patriotic, and the Korean national anthem was sung as the women carried the national plant of Korea, the rose of Sharon. Hwang has pointed out the cultural differences between the Americans and natives of South Korea regarding egg donations: American women can sell eggs for up to $4,000 a piece, but “in Korea, they don’t sell their eggs. It’s not a law, but ethically women just wouldn’t trade off their eggs.” He added, “They donate for the reasons of religion. For example, in Buddhism, Buddhists would donate to help patients cure their illness.”