BIOETHICS: by Peter WestmoreNews Weekly
UN backs ban on human cloning
, March 26, 2005
As the Federal Parliament prepares to consider Australia's policy on reproductive technology, the United Nations General Assembly in New York has voted overwhelmingly to ban all forms of human cloning.
The General Assembly adopted the UN Declaration on Human Cloning, by which member states were called on to adopt all measures necessary to prohibit all forms of human cloning incompatible with human dignity and the protection of human life.
The measure was overwhelmingly adopted, with 84 nations in favour, 34 against, and 37 abstentions.
Australia joined the United States, Poland, Hungary, Uganda and many other countries, in a resolution sponsored by the central American state of Costa Rica.
Dr David Prentice, an American research scientist who specialises in stem-cell research, worked closely with Costa Rica to educate member states on the truly malevolent nature of embryonic stem-cell research and so-called "therapeutic cloning", which leads to the destruction of early human life.
Dr Prentice said, "The UN has taken a strong moral stand. The global community has firmly stated that it will not condone any use of human cloning, because it is an affront to human dignity and an abuse of science to manufacture experimental human beings."
The representative of Costa Rica said the adoption of the declaration constituted a historic step to promote human rights and guarantee human dignity in all circumstances.
He said it was impossible to reach a consensus because a small group of states had rejected all reference to human life in the text.
The declaration sought to advance science in a clear framework of ethical norms. He said it was of concern that some delegations had undermined the value of the declaration, which had received majority support.
The text urged the scientific community to advance knowledge, bearing in mind the value of human dignity and human life.
It also called on member states to adopt the measures necessary to prohibit the application of genetic engineering techniques that may be contrary to human dignity, and to take measures to prevent the exploitation of women in the application of life sciences.
The resolution also recommended that priority be given to more important issues such as HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, than human cloning.
Among those opposing the UN Resolution were the United Kingdom, India, South Korea, Singapore and Japan, which have already announced that they intend to permit human-embryo experimentation, embryonic stem-cell research and cloning.
The British ambassador to the UN, Sir Emyr Jones-Parry, criticised "the intransigence of those who were not prepared to recognise that other sovereign states - after extensive dialogue and due democratic process - may decide to permit strictly controlled applications of therapeutic cloning."
Predictably, the biotechnology industry has condemned the resolution, dismissing it as "a toothless attempt to ban all forms of human cloning", and said that "since the declaration is unenforceable by law, countries will continue to pursue therapeutic cloning research".
However, Julie Bishop, the federal minister with responsibility for stem-cell research and cloning, said Australia's support for the UN declaration was consistent with present cloning laws.
Responding to complaints by medical experimenters who want to reverse the law, she said, "To abstain would not have been appropriate given that that is the state of the law in Australia today."
The Victorian Health Minister, Bronwyn Pike, opposed the Government's decision to support the cloning ban.
Her spokesman claimed that the UN vote broke a federal-state agreement to work together.
He said: "We are extremely concerned about this because at the last Health Ministers' meeting it was agreed that any change in Australian policy on stem-cell research would only happen after the review was completed. Julie Bishop was at that meeting. This seems to flout that agreement."
In Australia, the Federal Prohibition of Human Cloning Act 2002 and the corresponding State and Territory laws are subject to a three-year review which was due to commence last December and report in December 2005.
The Review team is still being negotiated between the governments of the Commonwealth, states and territories.
There is no reason the review needs to recommend any change, although no doubt some scientists and lobby groups will argue for a change.
When the review team is announced and public submissions are called for, the UN Declaration on Human Cloning will undoubtedly figure prominently in many submissions.