US-led group may push total ban, despite earlier vote to delay a decision for 2 years
Autor: Theresa Tamkins Fuente: The Scientist

In a last-ditch effort to revive talks on a comprehensive human cloning ban, a group of US-led countries may try to force a vote on the issue in a meeting of the United Nations General Assembly on Monday (December 8).

Two years of contentious wrangling on the subject led to a stalemate in early November, and the UN's Legal Committee voted 80 to 79 on November 6 to delay discussions for 2 more years. An initial proposal, supported by more than 20 nations including Belgium, France, Germany, and Japan, would have banned human cloning for the purposes of reproduction. A second proposal supported by the United States, Costa Rica, and 64 other nations—mostly developing and strongly Catholic countries—would have led to a ban on both reproductive and “therapeutic” cloning for research purposes. The impasse led the Legal Committee to opt for a last-minute motion by the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) to delay the vote for 2 years.

While the United Nations General Assembly tends to rubber stamp the recommendations of its committees, the group supporting a total ban on human cloning has decided to contest the issue during next week's plenary session, said Costa Rica's ambassador, Bruno Stagno. Such a move is relatively rare, a UN official said. “We have decided that we want to raise objections on the report that will be considered on Monday; however, we are still not decided as to exactly how we will do this,” Stagno told The Scientist.

“There are many different venues that we have before us,” he said, “the most extreme being to present our draft resolution to the plenary, something we can do. If it is carried, then we would proceed with a moratorium on human cloning, and the ad hoc committee that we are proposing to be created would start negotiations on an international convention to ban all forms of human cloning.”

The cosponsors of the Costa Rican resolution object to certain procedural “irregularities” associated with the OIC motion, Stagno said. For example, 14 of the 57 members of the OIC voted against the motion and the delay was an unprecedented 2 years, as opposed to a more typical 1-year delay, he said.

“No one really knows what will actually happen on Monday, whether we will have a vote or some compromise solution can be reached beforehand,” he said. He noted that the OIC and the cosponsors of the Belgian resolution have met to discuss the issue, and some countries are a “bit alarmed that we might seek a vote,” he said. Feedback from individual countries suggests that “they would accept a 1-year deferral,” he said.

“I think every country is evaluating what they want to do; we have not been officially informed that they intend to take a vote,” said a UN official close to the issue. He said that the 2-year delay could end up being a 3-year delay, because the General Assembly would consider the item in 2005 and decide whether to create an ad hoc committee that would come up with a treaty in 2006.

“From now until next week, things could change dramatically,” he said. “Whether the countries that initially opposed the motion, including the US, still have the political will to go through another vote and risk losing again, they have to make up their minds. It's hard to tell how much of this is bluster.”

The United States has been discussing all the Legal Committee items, “but no, we're not sure what's going to happen,” said Beth Marple, a spokeswoman for the US Mission to the United Nations. “We certainly aren't pushing for a vote per se, but a vote could take place.”

Bernard Seigel, a Florida attorney and the executive director of the Genetics Policy Institute, called the development “appalling.” His organization, formerly known as the Human Cloning Policy Institute, supports a ban on reproductive cloning, but not on therapeutic cloning. A total ban on cloning supported by the United Nations would be “a very strong signal of international will,” he told The Scientist.

“We know that the social conservative movement is certainly going to hoist [a UN ban] very high to weigh in on the debate on the Brownback bill and all other sorts of initiatives,” he said. “It's not a casual thing; it's a very serious vote.”
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