Progress continued on a proposed treaty to ban human cloning during a working session of the U.N. General Assembly this week. Costa Rica’s proposal for a comprehensive ban continues to garner support, as the new French/German suggestion to implement a two-step process tempts others.
Last year, the French/German proposal for a treaty to ban only so-called reproductive cloning met resistance because it would implicitly allow “therapeutic” cloning. No one wants the live birth of a cloned human baby, it was argued, but countries should be free to permit scientists to create cloned human embryos for research purposes – that is, to experiment upon and kill them.
Germans, particularly those in the Bundestag (the German parliament), were surprised to learn of their government’s U.N. advocacy for a treaty that contradicts its own national laws. Germany forbids all human cloning.
Matters became worse when German newspapers reported that a German delegate called “criminal” anyone who did not agree with the partial-ban proposal.
In February 2003, the Bundestag overwhelmingly passed a motion calling on the government to end its efforts for a partial ban and to work with the U.S. and other countries for a total ban. Liberals (Social Democrats and Greens) and conservatives (Christian Democrats) alike supported it.
This year, Germany returned with a subdued tone and revised proposal. Tackle a ban on human cloning in two steps: first, ban reproductive cloning, and then debate therapeutic cloning. Since some countries allow and are doing experiments on human cloning, the German delegation rationalized, the United Nations, should not oppose it.
Yet this reasoning defies the purpose of a human rights treaty: to set a standard because countries violate, allow violations or threaten to violate basic human rights. Abuses validate the need for a treaty, not for allowing the abuses to continue.
Bioethicist Nigel Cameron argues that a partial ban would be worse than no ban. “[A partial ban] would have the reverse effect, ensuring that this is the end of the line. The headlines around the world would say ‘cloning has been banned.’ The momentum for anything further would be over,” he warns.
“Moreover, the momentum for comprehensive constraints on other troubling aspects of biotechnology would also have been lost. The partial treaty would have the effect of ‘immunizing’ biotechnology against more substantive action.”
While Germany and France work behind the scenes, Singapore and the United Kingdom (U.K.) lead the opposition through aggressive public statements. The U.K. proclaimed proudly its endorsement of human cloning for experimentation. Singapore went much further.
Claiming countries who want a total ban were bringing shame upon the U.N., the Singapore delegate said, “Attempts to broaden the terms of [the treaty] to include therapeutic cloning have unfortunately introduced highly divisive and controversial elements into the debate. The United Nations has suffered enough criticism in recent times for its division and perceived inability to act. We should not give more cause to the U.N.’s detractors to criticize it further.”
Singapore also made the unconscionable claim that those who respect human life exhibit a form of religious sadism. “The use of anesthetics for women during childbirth was resoundingly condemned by some quarters on the basis of the book of Genesis in the Bible, where God said women are supposed to have pain in childbirth because of Eve’s sin in the Garden of Eden,” the delegate slandered.
Curiously, in the midst of this U.N. debate to rein-in rogue scientists, the Singapore delegate relayed a scientist’s plea to “trust us; we know what we are doing.”
Pro-lifers at the working session on cloning prepare fliers each night for use in lobbying delegates the next day, addressing the questions prevalent among delegates who are undecided or tepidly supporting a partial ban. Concerned Women for America has been working to assist the laudable efforts of Costa Rica and the U.S. to garner co-sponsors for a total ban.