Cloning rights

February 13, 1998

IN "Devaluing the human factor" (THES, February 6), the director-general of Unesco, Federico Mayor, supports a ban on human cloning and rejects defences of that practice that invoke a "right to reproduce". He says that "when the right to reproduce amounts to consumers' right of access to a product it is not on the same level as the fundamental right to found a family stated in Article 16 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights".

And he adds that "whatever the commercial pressures or the compelling personal motives behind calls for cloning, they are not equivalent to the fundamental right of each new human being to a unique identity".

Just which rights are more fundamental than others, and which are equivalent, is indeed an important and perplexing issue. Dr Mayor is surely correct to suggest that "claims that are couched in terms of competing and conflicting 'rights' appear irreconcilable".

Fortunately, that may not be what is at issue here. Two questions for Dr Mayor. Which of the various educational and cultural human rights, so ably supported by Unesco, do not involve rights of access to products?

And is giving birth to identical twins a violation of the fundamental right of each new human being to a unique identity?

Hillel Steiner. Professor of philosophy. Department of government. University of Manchester

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