In a key debate with implications for the future of human medicine, the Sixth (Legal) Committee grappled with the potential misuse of medical technology to produce human clones. The proposal for an international agreement to place a series of checks and balances on human cloning has been circulating in the Committee for two years. During the debate this session, countries dodged each other over two approaches to the issue: to ban cloning altogether--for reproduction and medical research--or allow scope for research. Limited therapeutic cloning produces tissue or organs, while reproductive cloning produces an identical twin from the cell of the donor.
France and Germany pioneered a resolution in 2001 that sought to ban reproduction but allow research in cloning technology. In 2002, the debate roughly split countries sixty to forty. The delegate of Germany, Christian Walter Much, told the UN Chronicle: "The resolution of France and Germany was to start negotiations in two stages: first, ban reproductive cloning on which there is consensus in the UN; and second, negotiate where there is still no consensus, that is on therapeutic cloning."
A competing resolution, sponsored by Spain, the United States and the Philippines, aimed for a total ban on all forms of cloning. "It was highly unlikely that this approach would yield results with the necessary urgency." Mr. Much also said that a convention on cloning should strive for the widest possible acceptance, just like other conventions in the human rights field. "As this was not possible, we reluctantly agreed to postpone the discussion to the next session."
The debate provoked discussion that went beyond the lay and the secular. Birhanemeskel Abebe of Ethiopia told the Chronicle that therapeutic cloning was a "prejudicial" and "misleading" act and should be banned, because "human beings have a right not to be created as objects of experimentations". He added: "We believe human cloning should be banned, because it upsets the social order by confounding the meaning of parenthood and confusing the identity and kinship relations of any cloned child."
Committee Chairman Arpad Prandler of Hungary summed up the contentious debate, stating to the Chronicle that the item on cloning was a "multifaceted and very difficult" problem, involving scientific, ethical, religious and even political differences. He said the Committee, being aware that a confrontation on the two approaches could not be avoided and in...