21 Feb UN committee opposes human cloning
A United Nations panel has fired yet another salvo into the human-cloning battle, which was punctuated recently by the United Kingdom’s decision to allow therapeutic researchers to grow cloned embryos with up to around 200 cells.
In a divided vote, the United Nations’ Legal Committee this week recommended that the General Assembly call on all member nations to “prohibit all forms of human cloning inasmuch as they are incompatible with human dignity and the protection of human life.” In the 71-35 decision, 43 countries abstained and 42 were absent altogether, notably Israel.
Further, the draft resolution calls on member states “to adopt all measures necessary to protect adequately human life in the application of life sciences, as well as measures necessary to prohibit the application of genetic engineering techniques that may be contrary to human dignity.”
However, because it is a non-binding resolution loaded with ambiguous language about what is being banned, the proposal is for practical purposes meaningless, according to University of Wisconsin-Madison law and medical ethics professor Robin Alta Charo.
“It has absolutely no legal effect until a country decides to enact domestic law, which it could have done without the UN action,” she said.
Many nations, including France and Germany, have taken the worldwide legislative lead on the issue by outlawing cloning for reproduction or research purposes in addition to banning inheritable genetic modification (IGM). The United States allows cloning for purposes of research and has no law prohibiting reproductive cloning or IGM. Charo feels that the United States, which she says has been using nations like Costa Rica to spearhead anti-cloning efforts in the U.N., is using this measure to support domestic efforts to criminalize cloning.
“It has no teeth; it’s a public relations measure,” said Charo, who is also an associate dean at UW Law School. “It was pushed by the president because he wanted very much to demonstrate to supporters that helped to elect him that he was on their side when it came to this particular issue.”
The Bush Administration has made its position on the matter clear, as in its statement supporting the Human Cloning Prohibition Act of 2003, which called for a comprehensive ban on all human cloning. Similar legislation died in the U.S. Senate.
“The administration is strongly opposed to any legislation that would prohibit human cloning for reproductive purposes but permit the creation of cloned embryos or development of human embryo farms for research, which would require the destruction of nascent human life,” a White House press release on the bill said. “Thus, the Administration would strongly oppose any substitute amendment that would permit human embryos to be created, developed, and destroyed solely for research purposes.
“At the same time, the Administration strongly supports the development of cell and tissue-based therapies based on research involving the use of nuclear transfer or other cloning techniques to produce molecules, DNA, cells other than human embryos, tissues, organs, plants, or animals other than humans.”
The UN has debated conventions and declarations on human cloning for years in the wake of the successful 1997 cloning of Dolly the sheep by professor Ian Wilmut in Scotland. But Charo went so far as to say that the issue is important not in itself but because of the reaction to destroying embryos.
“This is a sideshow in the abortion debate,” Charo said.