UNITED NATIONS – The U.N. General Assembly (search) on Tuesday approved a nonbinding resolution that seeks to ban human cloning, capping a four-year struggle that saw divided governments abandon efforts for stronger action.
The debate hinged on whether to outlaw all cloning or permit cloning for research. Nations that sought a total ban always had more votes, but never enough to achieve broad consensus or a binding worldwide treaty.
The final resolution urges member states to adopt legislation "to prohibit all forms of human cloning in as much as they are incompatible with human dignity and the protection of human life."
The document, which has no legal force, passed by a vote of 84-34, with 37 abstentions. The United States was joined by many African, Arab and Latin American states in voting for it; mostly European and Asian countries opposed.
President Bush applauded the resolution.
"The United States and the international community have now spoken clearly that human cloning (search) is an affront to human dignity and that we must work together to protect human life," he said in a statement.
In speeches after the vote, several nations including Britain, South Korea, and the Netherlands promised to push ahead with so-called "therapeutic cloning," which produces, then destroys week-old embryos to harvest stem cells. Scientists hope to use stem cells for treating such illnesses as diabetes and Parkinson's disease.
"The declaration voted on today is a weak, nonbinding political statement that does not reflect anything approaching consensus within the General Assembly nor will it affect the United Kingdom's strong support of stem cell research," Britain's U.N. Ambassador Emyr Jones Parry (search) said.
Jones Parry reminded colleagues that his government had announced about $2 billion in funding over the next three years for stem cell and other research.
Nations opposed to any cloning lamented the unwillingness of supporters of therapeutic cloning to agree to the resolution.
"It is surprising and sad that at the beginning of the 21st century, certain delegations have objected to a text which calls upon states to adequately protect human life," Costa Rica's U.N. Ambassador Bruno Stagno Ugarte told the assembly.
The debate over cloning began in 2001 with proposals by France and Germany for a treaty to ban reproductive cloning, an idea that has near universal national support. Governments led by the United States and Costa Rica sought to add language banning therapeutic cloning as well.
Bush went before the General Assembly in September urging a total ban.
After repeated delays, diplomats working in the U.N. legal committee gave up the push for the worldwide treaty in November, instead seeking the nonbinding political statement.
But the two sides could never settle on agreeable language. In the end, nations that opposed all human cloning decided to sacrifice consensus to get the language they sought and called a vote, hoping the document will lead to stronger action in the future.
In February, the U.S. ambassador in the committee that worked out language for the document said the statement was an important step "to achieving a culture of life" and called for more action by national legislatures around the globe.