The United Nations committee negotiating a treaty to ban human cloning found itself without a consensus as itss week of meetings ended on September 27. While all delegates appear to agree with a ban, disagreements arose over whether the ban should apply only to so-called reproductive cloning, that is, cloning to produce a live baby, or to human cloning itself, which includes reproducing a human embryo through cloning and using it for experimentation.
The week ended with two proposals on the table. Spain and the United States advocate a moratorium on all human cloning pending the adoption of an International Convention Against Human Cloning. They clarified that the moratorium does not prohibit cloning techniques to produce DNA molecules, organs, plants, tissues, cells other than human embryos, or animals other than humans. Germany and France are calling for a partial ban that prohibits reproductive cloning.
Delegates from Germany, a country that has a total ban on human cloning, have been the driving force for a partial ban. Germanys law was spurred by the nations sensitivities to its own history of unconscionable experimentation on humans. A delegate from another country pointed out that forces within Germany that want to allow human cloning experimentation have been unsuccessful at weakening its law, so they have turned to the United Nations. According to Germanys constitution, international law supercedes national law.
The United Nations Sixth Committee, which deals with legal issues, is determining the terms of the treaty. Some of the delegates acknowledged that their lack of understanding of medical and scientific subjects made it difficult for them to grasp the basic issues at hand. Pro-life organizations provided information showing:
There is only one form of cloning, as all human cloning attempts to create human beings for experimental purposes. So-called therapeutic cloning creates a human embryo to use for research that requires its destruction. A ban on reproductive cloning would be a false ban, creating an illusion that humans wont be harmed. Adult stem cells have proven far more successful than embryonic stem cells in treating diseases. Proponents of therapeutic cloning claim it is necessary in order to obtain embryonic stem cells that will match the patient. Embryonic stem cells carry serious unique problems, such as the potential to cause tumors and the difficulty of sustaining the cells. An explanation of terms, to clear the confusion over the various euphemisms used to keep people from understanding that human cloning produces human beings.
Concerned Women for America handed out information showing:
Cloning exploits women. Massive numbers of womens eggs would be needed to produce clones. It would require 80 million women to supply enough eggs to clone stem cells just for the United States 16 million diabetes patients. To produce the eggs, women have to undergo hyper-ovulation through injections of potent drugs and surgery to extract the eggs.
The drugs can cause serious medical complications, including rapid accumulation of fluid in the abdominal cavity, chest cavity and around the heart; increased risk of injury to the ovary that may include rupture and bleeding, requiring surgery; strokes, and lung problems and clots that have resulted in death. Most often the problems occur after treatment has ended. It is likely that poor and vulnerable women will be the targets for supplying eggsthose least likely to be in good health or to have access to basic medical care.
A partial ban on human cloning is virtually impossible to enforce, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. A general ban could be enforced, as it would define the activity as illegal, as opposed to the intention of the scientists. Unprecedented scrutiny by law enforcement over doctors and research labs would be required to ensure that only embryos created by in-vitro fertilization, and not cloning, were transferred to a woman.
Yet, there is no reliable means to distinguish between a fertilized embryo and a cloned embryo. To escape detection, a researcher could mix the two, making it impossible to detect which were implanted in a womb. Recruiting massive numbers of women to donate eggs would be a sign of illegal activity, but only if all human cloning is banned. If a cloned embryo were implanted, enforcing a ban would require forced abortion. Consequently, a ban could be enforced only if it outlaws the activity of human cloning.
At the end of the week, Spain provided a strong memo to delegates. It addressed arguments in favor of a total ban and various misconceptions rampant in the debate. In addition to points made by the pro-life groups, the memo stated:
The European Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine expressly prohibits the creation of human embryos for research purposes. Many European countries have signed this treaty. A partial prohibition would be without a legal basis. Legal protection cannot be provided for some human cloning but banned for others, since the concept and activity of reproductive and therapeutic cloning are the same. A partial prohibition may give rise to clandestine human cloning for reproduction, establishing an illegal trade in womens eggs. Whenever there are doubts as to the propriety of an action, the legal principle of precaution must ensure the protection of the weaker party, in the present case, the human embryo. The tragic results of animal cloning reinforce the need to ban any form of human cloning. Cloned embryonic stem cells could carry unknown genetic anomalies, which would be incorporated into the tissues and organs of patients. Opposition to human cloning does not deny scientific advancement. Cloning is not the only method for developing regenerative medicine. Adult stem cells are safer and yield successful results, including the capacity to multiply and become varied cell types. Further, adult stem cell research respects the embryo. Allowing any human cloning would take resources away from effective and safe adult stem-cell research. Concentrating on adult stem-cell research avoids the ethical and legal conflicts of human cloning.
Those who oppose the partial ban worked to educate the committee that a partial ban on cloning would be worse than no ban at all, as it would legitimize the use of defenseless human beings for experimentation. Ironically, allowing therapeutic cloning would provide the research that would lead to reproductive cloning. Once human cloning is perfectedthat is, if it can beit would be very difficult to enforce any ban. With no ban, the debate over a ban will continue nationally and internationally. The field will lack legal security, thus inhibiting funding and legitimacy.
Since the committee did not come to a conclusion, it plans to address the issue again in a few weeks. Seeing this as a pivotal turning-point in the future of mankind, the U.S. delegation is firm in its commitment to follow President Bushs policy of respecting human life, and to persuade other delegations to extend human rights protection to all human beings.