Divided UN panel opposes all forms of human cloning
19 Feb 2005 01:50:29 GMT
(Adds British ambassador, paragraphs 15-17) By Irwin Arieff UNITED NATIONS, Feb 18 (Reuters) - A deeply divided U.N. General Assembly committee adopted a nonbinding statement on Friday calling on governments to prohibit all forms of human cloning, including techniques used in research on human stem cells. The assembly's legal committee voted 71 to 35 with 43 abstentions in favor of the proposal put forward by Honduras and backed by the George W. Bush administration. The measure now goes to the full 191-nation assembly. Islamic countries said they would abstain because there was no consensus. Opponents of the measure, like Britain, Belgium and Singapore, said the text would have no impact on their practice of co-called therapeutic stem cell research. At the heart of the debate was medical research relying on therapeutic cloning, in which human embryos are cloned to obtain the cells used in the studies and are later discarded. Many scientists say the technique holds out the hope of a cure for some 100 million people with such conditions as Alzheimer's, cancer, diabetes and spinal cord injuries. But the United States, Costa Rica and other governments have argued that they view this type of research, for whatever purpose, as the taking of human life. Before adopting the text, the assembly's legal committee rejected amendments by Belgium that would have made the declaration more acceptable to stem cell research supporters. The vote capped four years of deliberations on a global ban on the cloning of human beings. The discussions began with a 2001 proposal to draft a binding global treaty banning human cloning, which probably now will not occur. 'RESPECT FOR HUMAN LIFE' That effort failed after the Bush administration fought to broaden the ban to all cloning of human embryos, including therapeutic cloning. The U.S. campaign ran out of steam last November when the legal committee remained deeply divided. In its place, Italy proposed a nonbinding declaration calling on nations to pass laws "to prohibit any attempts to create human life through cloning processes and any research intended to achieve that aim." Honduras then put forward a longer proposal urging U.N. member-states "to prohibit all forms of human cloning inasmuch as they are incompatible with human dignity and the protection of human life." "This declaration represents a significant step forward in advancing respect for human life," a coalition of U.S. groups opposed to abortion rights said after the vote. "Cloning opponents welcomed the U.N.'s resolution and look forward to member-states fulfilling their international obligations." British delegate Gavin Watson said he voted against the text because it "could be interpreted as a call for a total ban on all forms of human cloning." In a follow-up statement Britain's U.N. ambassador, Emyr Jones Parry, blasted the statement as weak and called its backers intransigent. "This is a weak, non-binding political statement. The number of states that failed to support it is greater than the number that backed it," he said. "We have lost the opportunity for an international ban on the abhorrent prospect of reproductive cloning because of the intransigence of states whose action serves only to hold back medical research." Singaporean Ambassador Vanu Gopala Menon, who also voted "no", told the committee it was unfortunate that a common objective of prohibiting human cloning "was hijacked in a misguided bid to widen this ban to include important research."