The 59th General Assembly of the United Nations (UN) is to revisit the thorny issue of an international treaty regulating human cloning on Thursday and Friday this week. The outcome of the upcoming vote has been described by observers as 'too close to call'.
Discussions on the treaty were postponed last year due to a lack of agreement between member nations. One proposal, sponsored by Belgium and a number of other nations, including China, Japan, France, Germany and the UK, is for a UN resolution that would ban human reproductive cloning only, while allowing individual states to regulate cloning for research purposes as they see fit. A competing proposal, sponsored by Costa Rica and supported by about 50 countries including the US, calls for a UN treaty to ban all forms of human cloning. In September, President Bush told the UN that 'I support that resolution and urge all governments to affirm a basic ethical principle: no human life should ever be produced or destroyed for the benefit of another'.
Last December, the stalemate between the two proposals prompted a third proposal from a group of Islamic nations, led by Iran. This stated that voting on the competing proposals should be delayed for two years so that scientific and ethical issues could be studied further. UN delegates narrowly voted in favour of this proposal, but the Bush administration and others were able to persuade the UN that the delay should only be for one year. In August, The UK's Royal Society and 67 other science academies around the world urged the UN to ban human reproductive cloning only, whilst leaving individual countries to regulate therapeutic cloning.
Last Wednesday, at the UN headquarters in New York, groups representing patients held a joint conference to urge the UN not to ban cloning for medical and stem cell research. The conference also included a taped message from Christopher Reeve, the late actor and stem cell research campaigner. Bernard Siegel, director of the Genetics Policy Institute, said Reeve's message is 'don't ban therapeutic cloning Ã it would destroy the hope of millions'. In addition, a coalition of 125 US scientific, patient and academic groups have written an open letter to the UN General Assembly and Secretary-General Kofi Annan. Daniel Perry, president of the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research, said the letter 'sends a clear message to all UN delegates and policy leaders around the world that any ban will be strongly opposed'.
The UK's Royal Society (RS) is again urging the UN to ignore the call to ban all forms of cloning. It urged countries to support the Belgian proposal when voting takes place later this week. Lord May of Oxford, president of the RS, said 'The US should be allowed to decide whether therapeutic cloning should be outlawed within its borders'. He added that if the Belgian proposal is successful 'the US and others would still be free to ban all human cloning but countries that see the promise offered by therapeutic cloning can still carry out research'.