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U.N. wrestles with a Total Ban on Cloning

10/11/2003 - 9:50 AM PST

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Rival Proposals Divide Member-Nations

NEW YORK, OCT. 11, 2003 (Zenit) - The United Nations is once more hearing arguments on a global ban against human cloning. A working group of the Legal Committee heard evidence on the matter last week. Hearings were not open to the public and a plenary meeting of the committee will take up the matter Oct. 20, according to a U.N. press release of Sept. 29.

The press release noted that some favor a two-step process in which reproductive cloning is banned immediately, while the more complicated question of therapeutic cloning is left for later. Others want both forms banned outright, since the technologies are virtually identical. During previous debates U.N. delegates disagreed on the scope of the proposed ban and the means to implement it.

After its week of deliberations, the U.N. working group remained deadlocked over whether to push for the total or partial ban, Reuters reported Oct. 3.

The news agency said that a group of some 40 nations, led by Costa Rica and the United States, continued to insist on a treaty banning both reproductive cloning and therapeutic cloning. The latter procedure clones human embryos for medical research. By contrast, a group of 14 governments, most of them European but also including Japan, Brazil and South Africa, argued for a quick ban on reproductive cloning, but wanted to leave the issue of therapeutic cloning up to individual governments.

U.S. representative Ann Corkery argued that a treaty allowing experimental cloning "would essentially authorize the creation of a human embryo for the purpose of killing it to extract stem cells, thus elevating the value of research and experimentation above that of a human life."

Ethical questions

From the start, the Holy See delegation to the United Nations has called for a total ban on human cloning. Before the resumption of the recent hearings, L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican semiofficial newspaper, published a note Aug. 7 explaining the Holy See's position. This was followed by a series of articles on cloning, written by Roberto Colombo of the Pontifical Academy for Life.

The note explained that there is no essential difference in the scientific procedures used in reproductive or therapeutic cloning. In both, a human embryo is produced by cloning. The difference lies in the subsequent use of the embryo. In the case of reproduction the embryo is implanted in a uterus, whereas in therapeutic cloning the embryo is used for research, for example, the production of stem cells.

The note added that the Holy See does not oppose the production of stem cells from adults. Nor does it oppose the production of cells produced by means that do not entail the destructive use of living embryos, including those frozen. The note judged as licit the removal of cells or tissues from embryos that have died spontaneously.

On Sept. 29 Archbishop Celestino Migliore, the Holy See's permanent observer to the United Nations, delivered a speech to the working group in which he argued for a total ban on human cloning. "We do need to support the advancement of human biological sciences to the benefit of all members of the human family," he said. Yet, "the cloning of human embryos to produce stem cells for potential therapeutic use has not only failed to demonstrate any verifiable scientific promise, it also raises serious ethical questions."

Allowing therapeutic cloning "requires the production of millions of human embryos with the intention of destroying them as part of the process of using them for scientific research," Archbishop Migliore warned. He explained that even though the early human embryo may not yet be implanted in a womb, it is "nonetheless a human individual, with a human life, and evolving as an autonomous organism toward its full development. Destroying this embryo results in a deliberate suppression of an innocent human life."

Legislative background

In one of his articles, Roberto Colombo observed that many countries already have declared their desire for a ban on human cloning. Before the 1997 announcement of the first cloned sheep in Scotland, a number of countries had explicit or implicit prohibitions on human cloning. These included Brazil, Canada, Germany, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom. After the sheep shock, other nations introduced legislation banning human cloning -- Argentina, China, Italy and the United States.

In January 1998 the Council of Europe added to the 1996 Oviedo Convention a protocol that strictly prohibited human cloning. And a Sept. 7, 2000, resolution by the European Parliament denounced human cloning and called for a U.N. global ban.

Last Nov. 20 the European Parliament voted 293-129 to repeat its call for a total ban on human cloning, even though many European governments favor only a ...

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