Bioethical Governance in South Korea: Tensions between Bottom-Up Movement and Professionalization and Scientific Citizenship


In South Korea, bottom-up campaigns played a significant role in legislating the Bioethics and Biosafety Act. Formed of alliances between civic activists, NGOs, religious groups, and some individual experts, they shared the goal of bioethical legislation and also demanded the democratic control of new biotechnologies. However, the Hwang Woo-suk scandal and the increased bureaucratic control of research that followed have challenged the development of a more democratic mode of governance.

Through ethnographic methods, this article seeks to understand how three groups— activists, bioethics experts, and scientists—viewed their roles in formulating bioethical governance. It does so by observing the manner in which public representation was framed and reframed by the state and different social actors. We aim to contribute to ideas of scientific citizenship by outlining the complex and contradictory relationship between democracy and the logic of bioethical regulation, and between the roles and identities of campaigners and expert groups and the larger public needs. We argue that the professionalization of bioethics in South Korea has missed opportunities regarding the inclusion of the public in debate, and it has preempted the formation of new alliances and negotiation between scientists, other expert groups, and civic groups.