01/03/2002
Press Release
L/2996



Ad Hoc Committee on International Convention

against Reproductive Cloning of Human Beings

4th & 5th Meetings (AM & PM)


COMMITTEE CHARGED WITH ELABORATING CONVENTION TO BAN HUMAN CLONING


CONCLUDES FIRST SESSION AT HEADQUARTERS


Chairman Says ‘Basic Trends of Views’ Emerged

During Week-Long Focus on Policy, Technical, Ethical Questions


The new United Nations Ad Hoc Committee on an International Convention against the Reproductive Cloning of Human Beings concluded its first week-long session today, with the Chairman, in closing remarks, saying “We went as far as we could in this Ad Hoc Committee at this time".


Committee Chairman Peter Tomka (Slovakia) said that the session had been a “learning process” for many.  Attention had been focused on a number of issues involving important and fundamental policy, ethical and technical questions.  No particular conclusion had been reached, but "basic trends of views" had emerged.


The Committee's report, adopted as orally amended in two meetings today, noted that there was general agreement that the reproductive cloning of human beings was a "troubling and unethical" development in biotechnology that should be prohibited.


Central to today's review of the report was the preference of some delegations for a "focused approach and a negotiating mandate" on a universal ban and the wish of others for a more comprehensive approach that included a ban on cloning for "therapeutic, experimental and research purposes for reasons of precaution and efficacy to address the real issues present in our society".  Throughout the general debate held earlier this week, several speakers favoured placing the treaty squarely in the context of the human rights framework.  


Indeed, internationally recognized human rights should inform a convention against reproductive human cloning, the New York Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said today.  A recent resolution of the Human Rights Commission drew attention to the importance of research on the human genome and its applications for the improvement of the health of individuals and mankind as a whole.  At the same time, the text highlighted the need to safeguard human rights and human dignity and protect the confidentiality of genetic data.


The Committee was created by the General Assembly last year to elaborate a convention to ban reproductive human cloning.  Resolution 56/93 of 12 December expressed the Assembly's concern at recently disclosed information on the research being conducted with a view to the reproductive cloning of human beings, as well as its determination to prevent such "an attack".


Also by that text, the Assembly decided that the first meeting should seek to define a negotiating mandate for such a convention.  It recommended that the work continue during the Assembly's fifty-seventh session, from 23 to 27 September, within the framework of a working group of the Sixth Committee (Legal). 


The Assembly further recommended that, upon its adoption of a negotiating mandate, the Assembly may decide, taking into account the "acute" nature of the problem, to reconvene the Ad Hoc Committee in order to open negotiations on a treaty. 


The initiative for a legal instrument banning the reproductive cloning of human beings was first proposed by France and Germany, who asserted that, while only a small number of researchers or scientific institutions presently have the technical capacity to perform such operations, there is no doubt that such operations would have an impact on the entire human family. 


In response to that challenge, the French-German initiative proposed that a global treaty be elaborated, within the context of the United Nations.  They suggested that the Sixth Committee was the most suited to conduct such negotiations, which would undoubtedly pose complex legal and technical problems.


Statement by Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights


MICHAEL O'FLAHERTY, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, stated that the Universal Declaration on the Human Genome and Human Rights was central to the discussions regarding reproductive human cloning.  The Declaration was grounded in the notion that research on the human genome should fully respect human rights.  The elaboration of a convention against reproductive human cloning would benefit from being informed by internationally recognized human rights. 


The Commission on Human Rights had considered the human rights issues related to advances in biotechnology for a number of years, he said.  Most recently, in its resolution 2001/71, the Commission recalled the right of everyone to enjoy the benefits of scientific progress and drew the attention of governments to the importance of research on the human genome and its applications for the improvement of the health of individuals and mankind as a whole.  At the same time, it highlighted the need to safeguard human rights and human dignity, as well as to protect the confidentiality of genetic data. 


The Office of the High Commissioner had focused on the human rights dimensions of recent advances in biotechnology, in the light of the Commission’s work and in follow-up to the Declaration.  Recently, the High Commissioner consulted with experts on human rights and biotechnology, to identify priority areas related to human rights and biotechnology, including the human rights implications of reproductive human cloning.


Highlights


During a day-long expert-level segment on Monday, five experts laid out the science and identified some of the key areas of debate.  They were introduced by a United States Professor of Philosophy and Molecular and Cellular Engineering at University of Pennsylvania and Director of the Center for Bioethics, Arthur Caplan, who said that the science of cloning was still in its infancy.  Despite

the enormous attention the subject had received, the ethical issues remained obscure and misunderstood due, in large part, to the fact that human cloning occupied a pre-eminent place in the annals of science fiction and the popular media.


The other experts were: Cesar Nombela (Spain), Professor of Pharmacy at the Complutense University and Head of the Special Chair in Genomics and Proteomics; Fernando Zegers-Hochschild (Chile), Associate Professor of the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Chile, and Director of the Unit of Reproductive Medicine at Clinica Las Condes, Santiago; Carmel Shalev (Israel), Director of the Unit of Health Rights and Ethics at the Gertner Institute for Epidemiology and Health Policy Research, Tel Hashomer; and Leonardo de Castro (Philippines), Professor and Chair of the Department of Philosophy at the University of the Philippines.


The first-ever general debate on the subject at the United Nations heard reactions to the expert briefings that reflected a divergence of views.  The German representative, speaking also on behalf of France, insisted that, like all other serious threats to human dignity, including torture, racism and terrorism, the reproductive cloning of human beings required a binding universal norm to prevent it.  It was critical to come to terms with that challenge, swiftly and without delay, he urged.


The Russian Federation’s representative called for a painstaking and balanced analysis that followed a strict scientific assessment of the genetic and social implications before any decision was made.  His own Government had recently adopted a temporary ban on human cloning.  It prohibited the import and export of human cloned embryos and was aimed at preserving national identity and "nipping in the bud" the commercialization and criminalization of human beings.  But, the ban had not extended to the use of cloning for stem-cell and other research.


Similarly, the World Health Organization, which had addressed the cloning issue in various forums and adopted texts declaring that its use for reproductive purposes was ethically unacceptable and harmful to the dignity of the human being, endorsed the view that a ban should not prohibit all cloning procedures and research.  Scientific research involving stem cells, including from embryonic tissue, could yield new treatments for disease; a full and open debate would yield conclusions about the utility, safety and desirability of stem-cell research.


Committee Membership


Peter Tomka (Slovakia) serves as the Committee's Chairman, with Christian Much (Germany), Gaile Ramoutar (Trinidad and Tobago) and Rosette Myirinkindi Katungye (Uganda) as Vice-Chairpersons.  Mahmoud Hmoud (Jordan) is Rapporteur.


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