U.N. Opens Debate on Anti-Cloning Treaty

The highly contentious issue of cloning is back on the U.N. (search) agenda, with support among member states for a treaty banning human cloning (search) but divisions over the use of human embryos for medical research.

The U.N. General Assembly's legal committee begins a two-day debate Thursday that will focus on rival resolutions: Costa Rica's draft calls for a treaty that would ban all cloning while Belgium's draft calls for a treaty that would ban the cloning of babies but allow countries to decide on using embryos for research, which many scientists believe may lead to new treatments for diseases.

Last November, the legal committee voted 80-79 to delay consideration of a cloning treaty for two years, a move requested by Islamic nations. In December, the General Assembly decided without a vote to delay the discussion of a global treaty for just one year.

Costa Rica's U.N. Ambassador Bruno Stagno Ugarte said Wednesday his resolution has 62 co-sponsors including the United States, but "the divide that was there is still there."

"We are convinced that we enjoy a clear majority. However, and I think we must be realistic here, we still face the specter of some type of procedural vote as a way of avoiding our responsibilities to address an urgent and important matter," he said in an interview.

"We believe it's extremely urgent, and the fact that in South Korea (search), in a veterinary school, they have had the most success in human cloning is extremely worrisome," Stagno Ugarte said.

South Korean scientists announced in February they had cloned an embryo and extracted the stem cells from it, and Britain granted its first license for human cloning for stem cell research in August.

Both countries are among the 22 co-sponsors of the Belgian resolution which would authorize a committee to draft a convention banning reproductive cloning of human beings without "any reservations."

It would also require all countries that adopted the treaty to ensure that the results of "therapeutic cloning" — the use of human embryos for medical research — are not used to advance human cloning.

But Stagno Ugarte questioned whether even the most stringent protocols to prevent such use would work when there is such a huge "black market for organs, for corpses from the morgues."

Belgian diplomat Marc Pecsteen de Buytswerve said his country is aware that cloning "is a very difficult problem" and said his supporters "still hope to engage the other side in a dialogue to find some way out to a consensus."

Stagno Ugarte said both sides are talking and "nobody has closed the doors to a compromise."

But he said any compromise must recognize "that human cloning in all its forms is contrary to human dignity" — a point emphasized in the draft resolution.

It states that "human cloning, for any purpose whatsoever, is unethical, morally reproachable and contrary to due respect for the human person and that it cannot be justified or accepted."

The Roman Catholic Church and anti-abortion groups, which support the Costa Rican draft, say embryonic stem cell research is tantamount to murder because it starts with the destruction of a human embryo to recover the cells.

Costa Rica and the Vatican argue that adult stem cells — including from umbilical cords and placentas — can be used to search for cures for many diseases.

Belgium's Pecsteen said "adult stem cells are worth exploring, but embryonic seems much more promising."

"So both should be explored, but one is not a replacement for the other," he said.countless millions of people."

The Belgian resolution "clearly represents the mainstream of scientific and medical thinking in the United States and worldwide," he said.