New York: With momentum growing at the United Nations for a total ban on cloning, opposing countries now argue that no treaty on this issue should be drafted without full consensus from all countries, and accuse those supporting a total ban of creating division.
This strategy differs from the traditional one for treaties, where individual countries have the right to decide whether to ratify a treaty, thereby coming under its authority.
A resolution introduced by Costa Rica for a total ban on cloning has 63 co-sponsors. A resolution by Belgium that would ban only so-called reproductive cloning, which creates a human embryo in order to produce a live birth, but allow scientists to create and kill human clones for research, has 22 co-sponsors.
A third group, comprised mainly of Islamic countries, prefers to delay any decision. Last year this group won by one vote a proposal to postpone debate for two years. The controversial measure was reduced to one year.
Nations staked out their positions through speeches during two days of debates held October 21 22.
Belgium’s partners argued that:
cloning human embryos offers the greatest hope for discovering treatments for a variety of ailments; reproductive cloning differs from therapeutic cloning, and that science should trump morality (or that any scientific pursuit, however questionable, if wrapped in the cause of helping patients is moral); the “greater good” of advancing science makes moot the question of whether embryos, the subject of the research, deserve respect as members of the human species; countries should determine their own limits on research cloning.
Ironically, many of those advocating the creation and killing of human clones demanded that those motivated by morality should not impose their views on others.
Costa Rica’s allies presented an ethical perspective and scientific rebuttals to every argument. Ethiopia applied the Golden Rule, explaining that biology clearly shows that life begins at conception and that no human being, given the decision, would prefer to be spare parts for someone else. The Holy See clarified how the real choice is not between ethics and science, but science that is ethically responsible and science that is not.
Several pointed out that human cloning has yet to produce any progress in helping patients while adult stem cells are already treating patients. Delegates even named patients such as Dennis Turner, whose Parkinson’s disease symptoms vastly improved for at least five years following treatment with his own stem cells, without requiring the creation and death of young humans.
Belgium claimed that the fundamental goal is to ban reproductive cloning through a treaty that as many countries as possible ratify, leaving the regulation of therapeutic cloning up to individual nations.
Kenya countered that the need for regulations on therapeutic cloning reveals that it carries risks. Allowing therapeutic cloning would perfect the techniques to produce a live-born clone with no way to enforce a prohibition against implanting a cloned embryo into a womb. Any cloning requires a large supply of eggs, and it is not difficult to guess who the donors of eggs will be, the delegate said.
Sierre Leone added, “What about us in poor countries, who cannot put regulations into force?” Developing countries do not have the resources to enforce regulations. A treaty that countries choose to join does not impose beliefs on others but does set international standards to protect vulnerable people.
Follow the money, said Nigeria. Research cloning advocates are “as much ‘academic entrepreneurs’ as they are objective scientists and their resistance to reasonable regulation on biotechnology may be strongly influenced by personal financial consideration.”
“We are deeply concerned,” Nigeria continued, “that developing countries, particularly in Africa, are most likely to be at risk as an easy source of millions of embryos required for the so-called therapeutic cloning. Thus, the prevalent poverty and ignorance in most developing countries will expose the women, especially young girls, to exploitation by the emerging ‘academic entrepreneurs.’ The ensuing commercialization of the process will definitely compound the problems of moral decadence, as well as social and demographic flux in these countries.”
“Must cures come at the expense of human life?” asked the Philippines. “A comprehensive ban on human cloning would be the only viable approach for the United Nations, if we would go beyond merely paying lip service to the dignity of human beings.”
Many of Belgium’s co-sponsors assumed that those supporting a total ban agree with a partial ban but just want more. Sierre Leone, however, explained that a treaty that was silent on prohibiting research cloning implies consent. Uganda stated it would be abdicating its duty if it agreed to anything that violates its national constitution, which forbids the killing of innocent human life.
The most controversial speeches came from the United Kingdom (UK) and Singapore.
Singapore, which last year brazenly demonized those who objected to treating embryos as commodities, accused them this year of an “everything or nothing attitude [that] has paralyzed the process. The voice of reason is being stifled by the voice of power.”
The UK, which recently approved licenses for human cloning, attempted to respond to the dilemma of obtaining eggs. Proponents of cloning say each patient needs his or her own genetically identical embryo to obtain matching stem cells. Faced with no clear answer on how they will obtain the minimum 100 eggs to produce one cloned embryo and billions of eggs to treat millions of patients the UK posited the suggestion that fewer than 50 stem cells lines would be needed to provide matches for 75 percent of England’s population.
Yet, if this were true, cloning would not be needed, as stem-cell lines are already available.
Touting its national legislation, the UK claimed that research cloning can be strictly regulated.
However, according to news reports, China which prohibits reproductive cloning but allows for cross-species cloning, for example, fusing human cells with rabbit eggs based its guidelines on “the relatively liberal UK legislation.”
The UK accused the Costa Rican resolution of “seeking to impose a single dogmatic position on the world.” If it was approved, the UK “wouldn’t participate in negotiations” to draft the treaty.
Undeterred by this threat, Portugal cautioned, “Those who choose not to participate are responsible for the consequences.”
If a cloned baby is born (as could only be done by extending the life of a cloned embryo), if women are excavated for their eggs, if human beings are reduced to fodder for scientists, the blame will lie at the feet of those advocating scientific advancement over human life.
“The international community must act now,” the U.S. admonished, “to send a clear message that human cloning is an affront to human dignity that cannot be tolerated.”
Wendy Wright is senior policy director for Concerned Women for America.