The Legal Committee of the General Assembly of the United Nations (UN) last week abandoned proposals to adopt an international convention on human cloning. A proposal led by the US and Costa Rica, which would have meant an international treaty banning all forms of human cloning, including for medical research, was abandoned in favour of a more general non-binding UN declaration against reproductive cloning.
All 191 member nations of the UN were agreed on the terms of a treaty, first proposed in 2001, which would have banned reproductive cloning, but member states were divided between this, and the competing US and Costa Rica proposal. 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 last month, 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 decision about what to do was then postponed until after the US presidential elections on 2 November. With no compromise between the Belgium-led group of countries supporting the ban on reproductive cloning only and the US/Costa Rica-led group looking imminent, the UN vote was eventually scheduled for Friday 19 November.
Before the vote, because any agreement looked unlikely, Italy put forward a compromise proposition. The Italian proposition calls 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 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 formulation means that the UN has seemingly reached a position on reproductive cloning, while allowing individual countries to regulate cloning according to how they define the 'creation of human life'.
Marc Pecsteen, a Belgian diplomat, pointed out that there wasn't necessarily full agreement on the Italian text, but there was 'consensus on using it as the basis' for further talks. He added that he thought everyone was relieved that no vote would be taken, adding 'we are narrowing the differences and now have a common basis with which to work'. Bernard Siegel, executive director of the Genetics Policy Institute, which has campaigned against a ban on all forms of cloning, said it was a 'very good result'. He added that 'a declaration, no matter what it says, is not going to have a chilling effect on the countries that are trying to advance therapeutic cloning cloning research'.