UN Opposes US Stem Cell Ban
Reuters - Fri Nov 7, 4:55 PM ET
A U.N. tradition of seeking broad international consensus
in the drafting of treaties has set back a Bush administration
campaign for a global ban on medical research on stem
Washington, with backing from the U.S. anti-abortion
movement, tried to push a resolution through a U.N
committee on Thursday for the drafting of a treaty
that would ban both the cloning of human beings
and so-called "therapeutic" cloning,
in which human cells are cloned for medical research.
Cloning research relies on embryo cells,
or stem cells, because they can grow into
all cells and tissues in the body.
While there is virtually universal support at the
United Nations (news - web sites) for a treaty
banning human cloning, the international
community is deeply divided over therapeutic cloning.
Scientists see it as a promising avenue in the
battle against disease while anti-abortion activists
and many Catholics see it as the taking of human lives.
Nigerian envoy Felix Awanbor said his country
hoped for a ban on stem cell studies for fear
African women were "most likely to be at risk
as easy targets to source the billions of embryos
required for scientific experimentation on this issue."
While the United States claimed support for its
approach from as many as 100 of the 191 U.N.
member-nations, an ad hoc group of governments
managed to block it in the General Assembly's
legal committee on a razor-thin vote of 80 to 79
with 15 abstentions.
The vote was on a motion -- put forward by Iran
on behalf of the 57-nation Organization of the
Islamic Conference -- to defer consideration
of the drafting of a treaty on cloning until 2005.
Those voting in favor of the delay said they did
so for a number of reasons, but most stressed
the need for consensus on such divisive issues.
One group of countries opposed to the U.S. stand,
led by Belgium and including Brazil, Japan,
South Africa and several other European states,
favored a narrower ban exempting therapeutic cloning.
That group, many of which have active pharmaceutical
and medical research communities, argued that the top
U.N. priority should be to quickly ban cloning humans,
leaving it to individual governments to decide whether --
and if so, how -- to regulate therapeutic cloning.
They noted that the U.S. Congress was itself so
deeply divided over stem cell research that it had
so far failed to adopt legislation regulating it.
But a partial ban "has never been a principle that
we've been prepared to accept," U.S. Deputy
Ambassador James Cunningham told reporters
after the vote.
Over the next two years, "we will use this time to
continue to enlarge the body of international opinion
that supports a total ban on human cloning," he added.
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