Brussels, 26 Oct 2004
The member states of the United Nations (UN) have again failed to reach an agreement on the scope of a proposed ban on human cloning, with a final decision now appearing unlikely before the US presidential election on 2 November.
The deadlock centres on whether or not a ban on human reproductive cloning, which enjoys almost universal support, should be extended to include the therapeutic cloning of embryos for research purposes.
A proposal for a total ban on all forms of cloning was put forward in a resolution by Costa Rica during a two day debate on the issue on 21 and 22 October. This option is supported by around 60 countries, including the United States, where the issue is seen as one of the defining differences of opinion between the two presidential candidates, George W Bush and John Kerry.
However, a counter-resolution - proposed by Belgium and supported by 19 other countries including the UK and Japan - rejects a global ban on therapeutic cloning, and would instead allow countries to draft their own legislation in this area.
The Belgian delegation claims that a total ban on all forms of cloning would be doomed to failure, in light of the widespread support for such research in various countries around the world. Emyr Jones, the UK's ambassador to the UN, said that the UK would not sign or be bound by any convention that called for a total ban. Other opponents of a total ban have complained that those seeking to introduce one are wrecking any chance of reaching a global agreement to outlaw human reproductive cloning, which all nations agree is necessary.
In his first public statement on the issue, the UN General Secretary Kofi Annan said: 'Obviously it is an issue for the member states to decide, but as an individual and in my personal view, I think I would go for therapeutic cloning.'
Along with the 60 countries that support a total ban on human cloning, however, the Vatican has also given its endorsement to the Costa Rican proposal, and last week made its first ever speech to the UN General Assembly to outline its stance on the issue.
The uncertainty surrounding the question of human cloning was reflected in Turkey's announcement on behalf of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference that the group of 57 countries wants more time to consider the issue, and would be opposed to voting on either alternative at this stage.