UNITED NATIONS – A bitterly divided U.N. committee approved a resolution calling on nations to ban all forms of human cloning incompatible with human dignity and the protection of human life.
Supporters of stem cell research said they will not be bound by the declaration, calling the language vague and expressing concern it could be interpreted to ban all forms of cloning, including stem cell research.
The 71-35 vote Friday reflected the divisions among the 191 U.N. member states. There were 43 abstentions, including many Islamic countries.
The resolution now goes to the U.N. General Assembly (search) for a final vote. If approved, the resolution would only be a recommendation, not a legal requirement.
The United States called it a victory.
"We're obviously very pleased," said Richard Grenell, spokesman for the U.S. mission to the United Nations (search). "This means that the United Nations is stating very clearly that member states should adopt legislation outlining all cloning practices."
Last year, the United Nations abandoned efforts to draw up a legally binding treaty on cloning because members could not decide whether to ban all human cloning or to ban reproductive cloning and allow stem cell and other research, which many scientists believe may lead to new treatments for diseases.
Instead the General Assembly decided in November to seek a nonbinding political declaration.
The assembly's legal committee approved a text drafted by Moroccan Ambassador Mohamed Bennouna (search), the chairman of a working group that spent much of this week trying to forge a consensus,
The resolution adopted calls on member states to quickly adopt and implement legislation "to prohibit all forms of human cloning in as much as they are incompatible with human dignity and the protection of human life."
It also calls demands that countries "adopt the measures necessary to prohibit the application of genetic engineering techniques that may be contrary to human dignity."
Member states are also asked to take measures to prevent the exploitation of women in the application of life sciences."
After the vote, many countries expressed regret that it was not possible to reach agreement by consensus. Those against the resolution, led by Belgium, said it would lack clout because it had to be put to a vote.
"Belgium doesn't feel bound by this declaration and doesn't intend to call into question its legislation in this area," said its representative, Marc Pecsteen.
South Korea's representative, part of a group of at least 20 nations who favor therapeutic cloning, said: "Human life means different things to different cultures and religions."
He said it should be up to member states to decide their own laws on therapeutic cloning and insisted that stem cell research did respect human dignity because it helped release people from suffering.
Costa Rica's U.N. Ambassador Bruno Stagno, who has led the fight for a total cloning ban, said scientists conducting stem cell research were purposely creating human life in order to destroy it to conduct research and that was not compatible with respecting human dignity.
Britain's U.N. Ambassador Emyr Jones Parry said his country voted against the resolution and said Britain would continue to permit therapeutic cloning research "because of the hope it offers of new treatments to benefit millions of people and their families."
"This is a weak, non-binding political statement." he said. "The number of states that failed to support it is greater than the number that backed it."