The United Nations will reconsider a treaty to ban human cloning in one year's time, rather than the two-year delay agreed upon by its legal committee recently. The General Assembly arrived at the consensus this week, following a last minute plan by supporters of a total ban on cloning technology to force a second vote on the issue. But on Tuesday morning, before going into session, delegates compromised, and decided to look at the issues again in 2004.
In November, the UN narrowly voted in favour of an Islamic nation-lead proposal to delay any decision on a cloning treaty until 2005. This meant that delegates did not vote on two other competing resolutions. One, sponsored by Costa Rica and supported by the United States and 64 other nations, sought a ban on both human reproductive and therapeutic cloning. The other, supported by 23 nations including the UK, proposed a ban on human reproductive cloning only, whilst allowing research cloning to continue. But supporters of the total cloning ban had decided to try and override the two-year delay, by opposing the proposal when it came up for a final vote this week.
Following an outcry from supporters of therapeutic cloning research (the proposed use of cloned early embryo cells to develop tissue-matched disease treatments), supporters of the Costa Rican proposal have now abandoned their push for a total ban. '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. The GPI is a pressure group seeking to ban human reproductive cloning whilst promoting research into SCNT (somatic cell nuclear transfer) research (therapeutic cloning).
Opponents of SCNT say that it is unethical, because it involves the destruction of four-day old human embryos, whereas supporters say such research could lead to new treatments for a range of incurable diseases. 'It is clear that there is no consensus in respect to therapeutic cloning research', the UK's deputy ambassador Adam Thomson told the assembly this week. But, he added, those who supported the Costa Rican resolution had 'effectively destroyed' the possibility of a ban on human reproductive cloning, an issue upon which all countries were agreed. Thomson also said that the UK would never be party to any convention that attempted to ban therapeutic cloning, nor would it apply it in its national law. Richard Grenell, a spokesman for the US ambassador, said that the US position on human cloning has not changed, adding that 'we continue to work for a total ban'.