The United Nations (UN) has approved a declaration calling for a ban on human cloning for both reproductive and research purposes. The assembly's legal committee voted 71 to 35 in favour of the non-binding statement, backed by the Bush administration, with 43 abstentions. The declaration will now pass to the full 191-nation General Assembly. However, opponents of a total cloning ban - such as the UK, Belgium, Singapore and South Korea - have said that the move will have no effect on therapeutic cloning research already taking place in their countries.
All member nations of the UN were agreed on the terms of a treaty, first proposed in 2001, which would have banned reproductive cloning. However, member states were then divided between this, and the competing US-lead proposal that sought to ban cloning for all purposes. In December 2003, the UN's General Assembly agreed to postpone a vote on the two proposals for a year. But, when the vote came round in October 2004, the UN again failed to reach an agreement on how to internationally regulate human cloning. Korea then proposed a further year's delay, to give time for an international scientific conference to be held, and a study made of national laws and regulations governing cloning.
The vote on how to proceed was scheduled for Friday 19 November 2004, but before this date, Italy put forward a compromise proposition. It called on nations to 'prohibit any attempt at the creation of human life through cloning and any research intended to achieve that aim'. The US then abandoned the campaign for an all-encompassing ban, a decision described as a 'major setback' for President Bush, who had addressed the UN General Assembly directly in August, calling for a total ban. As the two sides were 'too divided' to gain enough support for a treaty in any form, the legal committee agreed instead to the non-binding draft declaration proposed by Italy.
The benefit of the Italian text meant that the UN had seemingly reached a position on reproductive cloning, while allowing individual countries to regulate cloning according to how they define the 'creation of human life'. However, Honduras then put forward a longer proposal, urging member states 'to prohibit all forms of human cloning inasmuch as they are incompatible with human dignity and the protection of human life'. This text was adopted by the legal committee last week.
A coalition of pro-life US groups called the adoption of the test 'a significant step forward in advancing respect for human life', adding that cloning opponents 'look forward to member states fulfilling their international obligations'. However, Britain's UN ambassador, Emyr Jones Parry, called the declaration 'a weak, non-binding political statement', and pointed out that 'the number of states that failed to support it is greater than the number that backed it'. He said that the UN had lost the opportunity to ban 'the abhorrent prospect of reproductive cloning', because of 'the intransigence of states whose action serves only to hold back medical research'.
South Korea's representative said that 'human life means different things to different cultures and religions', and that it should be up to individual member states to decide their own laws on therapeutic cloning. Kim Heon-joo, head of the country's Ministry of Health and Welfare, said that South Korea will continue to allow embryo cloning research, even when the statement is adopted by the General Assembly.