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from issue no. 12 - 2003

Notes from the UN

Better a moratorium

While we are going to print, the session of the fifty-eighth General Assembly of the UN has still not concluded, and so we promise to speak more fully next time of the reform of the United Nations, on the basis of the resolutions approved by the General Assembly.
Meanwhile the echo is still resounding of a recent and important vote that in the month of November saw government delegations engaged on the vital theme (the Italics are merited) of cloning.

On 6 November, with a motion not to proceed, the 6th Commission of the General Assembly of the UN – that deals with legal questions – set a moratorium of two years on the debate on human cloning. Already in 2002, on the initiative of France and Germany, there was a debate aimed at leading to the drafting of an agreement against reproductive cloning. France and Germany urgently wanted to set out a clear and universal ban on human cloning for purposes of reproduction. But they judged it wiser to leave the door open to the cloning of human embryos for medical purposes (with the purpose that is of producing embryos from which to extract “material” to be used in the cure of diseases till now thought incurable). The Spanish-American proposal countered that with its demand for a total ban on human cloning, whether for reproductive or medical purposes. The reason underlying this position is that, according to the more respected scientific journals, cloning of human embryos for medical purposes has not so far offered valid scientific forecasts of success and, further, it is morally unacceptable since it entails the creation of millions and millions of human embryos for the sole purpose of using and then destroying them. There was immediate stalemate and, given the importance of the question, it was decided not to close the issue but to postpone the debate to the fifty-eighth session of the General Assembly of the UN in 2003.

In the ongoing session of the General Assembly there was a change of horses… but the carriages remained the same. The Spanish-American position was put forward by Costa Rica who drafted a Resolution aimed at getting a mandate from the Assembly for the drafting of an Agreement on the total banning of human cloning. The US sent round an excellent non-paper (unofficial draft) in support. France and Germany also circulated a non-paper with a softer position compared to last year, when the aim was the total banning, without reservation, of reproductive cloning. And further, with regard to cloning for medical reasons, given that some countries have already started experiments, they propose a series of options that include its being outlawed by countries willing so to legislate. But the terms of the proposal were not thought acceptable by many government delegations, despite the wish to come to some compromise. In fact it leaves the door opened to the cloning of human embryos, which, besides not offering promises of effective cure, is morally unacceptable, and, once the cloning of embryos for the purposes of research is allowed, no agreement could effectively prevent them from being implanted in the uterus and life thus given to human clones.

The Holy See was also associated with the debate, getting its position-paper adopted by the 6th Commission work-group. The text proposed a total ban on human cloning - as morally unacceptable – solicited investment in scientific research into the use of adult stem cells, in the aim of finding cures as soon as possible for diseases so far thought incurable.

The debate at the United Nations made a qualitative leap. Among the issues on the order of the day human cloning was the one that caught the participant attention of almost all the government delegations. There was a clear sense that people were working on the “21st century debate”. Thanks to the efforts to inform and persuade conducted by various “co-sponsor” countries of the Coast Rica Resolution – and in particular by the Holy See through its pontifical representatives – the number of supporters for a total ban on cloning has soared in a month from thirty to sixty-six. Since Germany was unable to translate its own position into a draft Resolution, because of incompatibility with its national laws, the Franco-German proposal was proxied by Belgium in a detailed draft for a Resolution that won twenty-four supporters. To call a vote on the two Resolutions thus seemed pretty risky, especially for those in favor of the partial ban, who (even at the cost of passing over the issue, often enough referred to by them, of the extreme urgency of outlawing reproductive cloning) fell back on a motion not to proceed, introduced at the last moment by the Conference of Islamic Countries (even though its member countries were not unanimous amongst themselves). The motion was adopted with 80 votes in favor, 79 against. In conclusion, for the moment... better a moratorium.

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