United Nations Balks at Cloning Ban


Kristen Philipkoski

December 9, 2003; New York ( Reuters) -- A last-ditch effort by conservative members of the United Nations to ban all human cloning was abandoned Tuesday in lieu of a decision to postpone any action for one year. The United Nations had previously voted in early November by a slim margin to postpone the decision for two years. But countries including the United States and Costa Rica wanted a treaty to ban all human cloning, including the type that researchers hope will lead to treatments for diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, and talked about forcing a re-vote.

Instead, the General Assembly came to a concensus on Tuesday in the halls of the U.N. before going into session to revisit the issue in one year instead of two. The press, public, and legislators around the world saw the first vote as a blow to conservatives. Tuesday's action perhaps lessens the blow, but researchers still see the decision as positive news for science. They hope that in the next year significant advances in stem-cell therapies might trump any arguments against it.

"This is a victory for rational policy making and human science, especially for the coalition of groups who came together to oppose this," said Bernard Siegel, Executive Director of the Genetics Policy Institute. "There will be scientific breakthroughs in medical research that will probably derail any hope of banning therapeutic cloning on a permanent basis." Siegel gathered dozens of researchers and science organizations to promote a ban on reproductive cloning, which could produce a baby, and to oppose a ban on therapeutic cloning, because researchers hope to use the technology to develop stem-cell therapies.

Legislation to ban reproductive cloning in the United States, like the U.N. treaty, has been tripped up because lawmakers link reproductive cloning with therapeutic cloning, known by scientists as Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer (SCNT). U.N. delegates expressed frustration that the assembly could not agree on a reproductive cloning ban.

"It is clear that there is no consensus with respect to therapeutic cloning research," Britain's Deputy Ambassador, Adam Thomson, told the assembly. "But by ignoring this fact and pressing for action to ban all cloning," he said, "supporters of the Costa Rican resolution have effectively destroyed the possibility of action on an important area on which we are all agreed -- a ban on reproductive cloning."

The anti-abortion lobby and various religious groups have championed a ban on SCNT. The issue involves stem cells, which have the ability to become any type of cell in the human body. Stem cells are derived from 4-day-old embryos that are created in a dish and destroyed in the process.

Opponents of SCNT say that's the same as taking a human life. Researchers hope stem cells will one day replace damaged neurons or spinal cord cells, for example. If taken from a cloned embryo of the patient, the stem cells would be an exact biological match.

Costa Rica led the arguments against SCNT, and drafted a resolution for the United States and its 60 supporters, which include some Latin American and European Catholic nations. An additional 30 nations, led by Britain and Belgium, are just as adamant that a global ban on cloning research was out of the question and said they would not support such a treaty.


1. Reuters, "United Nations Balks at Cloning Ban" (December 9, 2003).
2. Reuters, "U.N. Postpones Negotiations on Treaty to Ban Human Cloning," The Los Angeles Times, p. A14 (December 10, 2003).
3. NPR Radio, "All Things Considered," (6:30 PM PST; December 9, 2003).

GRG Editorial on Human Cloning

December 10, 2003; It is our good fortune that the enemies of therapeutic cloning in the White House have failed in their attempt to endrun the US Senate (where they were blocked in achieving their goals) by having the UN pass some sort of international treaty banning all forms of human cloning (using Costa Rica as a "stalking horse"). It would have been ironic if the White House could have made something illegal in the whole world that was not illegal in the US! The U.N. defeated this US-sponsored global-ban initiative by extending a vote on the matter for one more year. The British ambassador excoriated the Bush White House for blocking a vote on what everybody seems to want, which is a "temporary ban on only human reproductive cloning," essentially throwing out the baby with the bath water.