FaithWorld

“Well-dying course” in South Korea includes test run in a coffin

(A woman, donning a traditional yellow hemp robe, lies down in a coffin during a "well-dying? course in Seoul July 4, 2011/Truth Leem)

At age 62, Ha Yu-soo had begun to feel his mortality, wondering about the timing of death’s soft tap on the shoulder. But why wait, he thought. Maybe he could take a test run. Ha donned a traditional yellow hemp robe, lay down inside a casket and felt at peace — until the somber, dark-suited attendants placed a lid on the coffin. Then Ha realized his worst fear: the eternal darkness had finally come.

“How grateful I was that this was a fake funeral, not real,” he said with a sigh of relief. “There’s but one step from life to death but the difference is huge,” Ha, a fire protection system inspector, told Reuters.

Ha joined around 70 other people on a “well-dying” course, run by a local district office in the northeast of Seoul. The course’s motto: “Don’t take life for granted.”

Baek Sung-ok, an ovarian cancer patient who opted out of chemotherapy several years ago, said the experience of being in a coffin made her feel more appreciative of those around her. “I will abandon greed to relate to my husband and love my daughters more,” she said, rising from the casket.

South Korea back in stem cell spotlight with new adult cell treatment for hearts

(A researcher uses a microscope during a photo call at an aseptic room of the FCB-Pharmicell laboratory in Seongnam, near Seoul, June 28, 2011/Jo Yong-Hak)

More than five years after South Korea’s scientific reputation was shattered by a cloning research scandal, the country has approved medication from adult stem cells in the form of a treatment for heart attack victims for the world’s first clinical use. South Korea all but put stem cell research into the deep freeze after a pre-eminent scientist, Hwang Woo-suk, was found guilty of fraud for his work in the field in 2005.

The state Korea Food and Drug Administration’s (KFDA) approval for the sale of the Hearticellgram-AMI treatment, developed by FCB-Pharmicell, from July 1 signals an ambitious new push to put research in the field back on the frontline. “This marks the government opening the road for progressive development in stem cell research,” said Oh Il-hwan, professor of molecular biology at the Catholic University School of Medicine in Seoul. “It is expected to make it more accommodating for clinical research in this field,” said Oh, who previously sat on KFDA panels overseeing stem cell research.

South Korea’s religious harmony put to the test by Christian president

(South Korean President Lee Myung-bak at the presidential Blue House in Seoul June 9, 2011. Credit: Reuters/Jo Yong-Hak)

Many South Koreans concerned about the country’s increasing religious polarisation are haunted by a single image – their president on his knees. While attending a national prayer breakfast in March, President ??Lee Myung-bak knelt to pray at the urging of Christian leaders.

Footage of the event shocked many in this pluralist country, where about half the population professes no particular faith and the remainder is split between Buddhists, Christians and homegrown creeds. The main Buddhist Jogye Order called the scene “unforgiveable,” and even right-leaning media outlets generally supportive of the conservative leader expressed reservations.