UN Begins Considering «Clone And Cill» Convention

NEW YORK, Nov 29, 01 (C-fam.org/CWNews.com) - This week, the UN General Assembly (GA) took the first steps towards a limited worldwide ban on cloning, a ban that would ignore the human experimental cloning now being carried out by scientists in the United States.

A committee including experts in bioethics and genetics will meet in February and September to draft the convention. Negotiations on the convention will begin in 2003. Jean-Luc Florent, the French legal adviser, told the sixth committee of the GA that "the initiative deals only with reproductive cloning [live-birth cloning] and has no bearing on other types of cloning."

Cloning involves removing the nucleus of an unfertilized egg and replacing it with the nucleus of a cell from another person. This results in the creation of a human embryo that is the genetic duplicate of the cell donor. Scientists are attempting to clone embryos for two purposes. Live-birth, or reproductive, cloning seeks to implant cloned embryos within wombs for eventual birth. Human experimental, or "therapeutic," cloning occurs when a cloned embryo is destroyed to extract its stem cells for scientific research. In both cases, a human embryo would be created. The distinction lies in how the embryo is intended to be used.

The French and German delegations-- the sponsors of the GA initiative-- argue that this limited proposal accomplishes all that is politically possible. An international consensus exists against live-birth cloning, but there is no such consensus with regard to human experimental cloning. Christian Much, the German legal advisor, said that the ban on live-birth cloning was a mere "tactical consideration" since the debate over a total ban could drag on for many years. "I'm as concerned as you are about therapeutic cloning," he said, "but we want to win the race against irresponsible scientists attempting reproductive cloning right now."

However, Archbishop Renato Martino, the Vatican's envoy to the UN, voiced concern over a partial ban: "Therapeutic cloning, embryos to be used in the treatment of certain illnesses and then destroyed, must be addressed and prohibited. This exploitation of human beings, sought by certain scientific and industrial circles, and pushed forward by underlying economic interests, retains all its ethical repugnance as an even more serious offense against human dignity and the right to life."

Douglas Johnson, the Legislative Director of the National Right to Life Committee, said that this limited ban would be worse than no ban at all, since it would have the effect of legalizing cloning as long as all cloned embryos are eventually destroyed. Johnson said that if live-birth cloning is outlawed, "the public will relax, thinking that the problem has been dealt with, while the biotech industry will be free to do whatever it wants. The industry sees a limited ban as the protection they need to establish human embryo farms. The firms in the US doing this research are certainly willing to promise to kill every embryo they create for research."

Catholic World News - Feature
29. november 2001