UN to vote on cloning in one year, not two



Christie Aschwanden




The United Nations General Assembly this month agreed to a one-year delay on the debate over a treaty to ban human cloning. The move overturns a November decision by the UN's legal committee that would have postponed the discussion for two years.

The legal committee.s vote was largely seen as a defeat for the countries who had pushed for a total ban on all forms of human cloning (see news item in the Bulletin of the World Health Organization (2003;81:850). The US and Costa Rica had sought to overturn the committee's decision by forcing a General Assembly vote on the treaty, but instead they proposed a one year deferment, apparently after deciding they did not have sufficient votes to pass their version.

The legal committee had come to their decision by a one-vote margin, reflecting a deep and seemingly irreconcilable division among member states over how far the ban should reach. All Member States agree that cloning should never be used to make babies, but a group of about 60 want a treaty banning any cloning that uses a human embryo.

However, other nations, including China, Japan and most of Europe prefer to allow individual Member States the right to decide whether to permit cloning for research purposes. "Therapeutic cloning is a vital research tool, there's agreement on that," says Richard Gardner, Chairman of the UK's Royal Society working group on cloning and stem cells. Scientific groups and patient advocacy organizations have spent recent weeks lobbying for a ban that would allow Member States to individually regulate therapeutic cloning.

Those supporting a total ban, however, show no intention of changing course. "A total ban on human cloning should be the international standard," said James Cunningham, Deputy United States Representative to the United Nations during a press conference in November. Therapeutic cloning amounts to unethical experimentation on a child-to-be, US delegate Ann Corkery says. "It risks making women's bodies a commodity, with women being paid to undergo risky drug treatment so they will produce the many eggs that are needed for cloning." Costa Rica's ambassador, Bruno Stagno raised concerns that women in the developing world could be exploited for their eggs.

But supporters of a less restrictive ban remain unswayed. Adam Thomson, Representative to the United Kingdom Mission to the United Nations stressed that the UK will sign no ban that prohibits therapeutic cloning. "It is clear that there is no consensus in respect to therapeutic cloning research. But by ignoring this fact and pressing for action to ban all cloning, supporters of the Costa Rican resolution have effectively destroyed the possibility of action on the important area on which we are all agreed — a ban on reproductive cloning," he says.

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