The United Nations (UN) has again failed to reach an agreement on an international treaty regulating human cloning. All 191 UN members agree on a treaty first proposed in 2001, which would ban reproductive cloning of human beings. However, they are divided over an alternative proposal, which seeks a wider ban on all uses of cloning technology. In December 2003, the General Assembly agreed to postpone a vote on the two proposals for a year. Now, it looks as though the vote will be delayed again.
According to Bernard Siegel, director of the Genetics Policy Institute, an international lobby group that supports cloning for research purposes, the delay marked 'a tremendous victory'. Twelve southern African nations that previously supported a total ban are now in favour of allowing research - cloning to continue. 'We shall not be party to any decision that will have us act hastily without measuring the benefits that medical science can provide to improve the quality of life of our people', Ambassador Alfred Dube of Botswana told the UN legal committee last week. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan also said that he personally supported therapeutic cloning, but that the issue was up to individual member states to decide on.
The proposal opposed by the US, sponsored by Belgium and 23 other nations, including China, Japan, France, Germany and the UK, is for a UN resolution that would ban human reproductive cloning only, while allowing individual states to regulate cloning for research purposes as they see fit. The competing proposal, sponsored by Costa Rica and supported by the US and 59 other countries, calls for a UN treaty to ban all forms of human cloning.
Last year, the stalemate between the two proposals prompted a third proposal from a group of Islamic nations, led by Iran. This stated that voting on the competing proposals should be delayed for two years so that scientific and ethical issues could be studied further. UN delegates narrowly voted in favour of this proposal, but the Bush administration and others were able to persuade the UN that the delay should only be for one year.
UK Ambassador Emyr Jones Parry said last week that therapeutic cloning would continue to be allowed in Britain, regardless of the outcome of a UN vote on the issue. He said that if countries wanted to ban the research then 'we respect that', but that it would be 'totally wrong' for the UN to override the position reached in the UK via its democratic process. US special advisor Susan Moore told the legal committee that the United States supported efforts to find breakthrough treatment and cures for diseases, but that it felt scientific progress was possible without posing 'a threat to human dignity'.
Korea has now proposed another year's delay, and said that an international scientific conference should be held, and a study made of the national laws and regulations governing cloning. According to a Reuters news report, many diplomats now expect that any decision on the issue will be postponed until after the presidential election on November 2.