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For we are not alone on Earth

Jan 08, 2020

Professor Chun Myung-sun (College of Veterinary Medicine)
Professor Chun Myung-sun (College of Veterinary Medicine)

Humans, animals and nature have always been one

In 1999, birds in New York were found dead for no apparent reason. A few months later, New Yorkers suffered from an unidentified encephalitis. Both instances were later diagnosed as the West Nile virus, but only after considerable damage was already done. Through the experience of such zoonotic infections including SARS and MERS, a “one-health” movement, which sees humans, animals and nature as one organic aggregate, has gained momentum in Korea. Center among its exchanges and research is Professor Chun Myung-sun (College of Veterinary Medicine).

“One-health is simple. Various experts work together on issues such as disease and environmental pollution that have previously been discussed in solely human-centric ways. By broadening our perspective to include animals and nature, we are able to draw a bigger picture and reach an integrated solution. Academic discussions of the sort have been around for some time, but the one-health movement has begun to map out practical action plans since the beginning of the 21st century.”

Professor Chun is participating in the One Health Forum, which consists of the Korea Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, and the Ministry of Environment, as a veterinary medicine expert. In 2017, she classified and studied errors that occur due to differences in the ways domestic legal systems of human and animal health deal with certain zoonotic infections. Reforming the law takes time, but Professor Chun has worked hard to move along this change.

Pioneering reforms in Veterinary Medicine in Korea

Professor Chun worked as a quarantine officer with a bachelor’s degree in veterinary medicine and a master’s degree in public health. She later completed her doctorate degree in Germany, studying the history of veterinary medicine. One thing that caught her eye in the classics she studied was the way technology was not separated from ethics. She says that there has been a tendency in modern medicine to see the two as separate issues, but they are slowly being integrated again.

“Young veterinarians who step into the world face serious ethical problems. Even if they have established a common sense code of ethics through their time in university, encountering acute dilemmas such as euthanasia, animal shelters and stamping-out policies first hand can be traumatic. We needed better college-level ethical preparations for future veterinarians.”

Upon her return to SNU in 2007, Professor Chun began designing a curriculum that would better foster veterinarian ethics. A decade-long effort, it was the first attempt to combine humanities and social science studies with veterinary education in Korea. Research data and materials on the topic were sorely lacking, so Chun conducted her own investigations and referred to cases in medical schools and veterinary schools abroad. Currently, she teaches classes such as “Animal Veterinary Society” and “Self-improvement for Future Veterinarians”, guiding students to gain confidence in making their own ethical processes.

“Owing to its history of colonization and rapid modernization, Korea lost the chance for the field of veterinary medicine to grow on its own. Here, a veterinarian is a job that is less than 100 years old. Historically, the consolidation of an ethical code has been the last step of development for a profession. As such, an ethical consciousness cannot be made overnight. It is currently being created from the needs of the times coupled with the development of the academic field in Korea.”

Professor Chun believes that both the one-health movement as well as calls for curriculum reform embody the rapid changes in society’s perception of animals. “It’s good to see the improvement in attitudes towards animals. But as the distance and relationships between people and animals become closer, there will also be more problems. It is a stage which requires great nuance.”

Professor Chun also plans seminars and public lectures as part of the Human Animals Research Group. The group, which is made up of researchers from various fields such as the humanities, sociology, veterinary medicine and sociology, aims to introduce a variety of perspectives on understanding animals to members of the SNU community as well as the general public.

Source: SNU People
Written by Minju Kim, SNU English Editor,
Reviewed by Yu Young Jin, SNU English senior Editor