LEGAL COMMITTEE DISCUSSES DIFFERING TEXTS ON ISSUE OF HUMAN CLONING

GA/L/3257
21 October 2004

LEGAL COMMITTEE DISCUSSES DIFFERING TEXTS ON ISSUE OF HUMAN CLONING

21/10/2004
Press Release
GA/L/3257

Fifty-ninth General Assembly

Sixth Committee

11th Meeting (AM)


LEGAL COMMITTEE DISCUSSES DIFFERING TEXTS ON ISSUE OF HUMAN CLONING


Some Delegates Favour Convention Imposing Total Ban;

Others Support Exception for Therapeutic and Scientific Research


(Issued on 22 October 2004.)


The Sixth Committee (Legal) this morning began a two-day debate on the controversial issue of cloning with delegations divided over whether an international convention should ban reproductive cloning, of human beings while leaving open the question of human cloning for therapeutic purposes.


Costa Rica’s Foreign Minister, Roberto Tovar, introduced a draft resolution on an international convention against human cloning.  He said his country could not accept the deliberate creation of human embryos for the explicit purpose of destroying them for scientific experiments as was done in “therapeutic” cloning.  Equally, he rejected any attempts to create “copies” of other human beings.  Both were an affront to human dignity.


The representative of Belgium introduced another draft that would call for a convention to prohibit reproductive cloning of human beings while leaving the question of therapeutic cloning open.  He said it would be up to States to decide whether to ban therapeutic cloning, call for a moratorium on it, or regulate it nationally.


The representative of the United Kingdom said he could not support any attempt to ban or restrict cloning for research purposes.  Such cloning held enormous promise for new treatments for serious degenerative conditions.  Should the United Nations proceed to develop a convention banning both therapeutic and reproductive human cloning, the United Kingdom would not participate in negotiating it and would not sign such a convention.


Turkey’s representative, speaking for the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), recalled last year’s deadlock on the matter and said it must not happen again, nor should either side force a vote.


Namibia’s representative said medical research towards therapeutic cloning should be continued and those that wanted to impose a comprehensive ban through national legislation could do so.  New Zealand’s delegate said he could support a convention banning reproductive cloning but not one that prohibited all forms of cloning.  His country needed more time to evaluate its position on therapeutic cloning.


Also speaking in the debate were the representatives of Indonesia, Republic of Korea, Japan, Finland, Portugal, Brazil, Singapore, France, India, Cuba, Panama, China, Botswana (on behalf of the Southern African Development Community), Greece, South Africa and Zimbabwe.  The Observer of the Holy See also made a statement.


An official of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) also spoke.


The Sixth Committee will next meet at 10 a.m. tomorrow, Friday, 22 October to conclude consideration of both the cloning item and the question of the broadening the provisions of the 1994 Convention on the Scope of Protection for the United Nations and Associated Personnel.


Background


The Sixth Committee (Legal) met this morning to consider its agenda item entitled “International convention against the reproductive cloning of human beings”.  The issue was first introduced at the request of France and Germany at the General Assembly’s fifty-sixth session in 2001.  At that session it established an Ad Hoc Committee to consider the elaboration of such an international convention.


At its fifty-seventh session, in 2002, the Assembly welcomed the reports of the Ad Hoc Committee on an International Convention against the Reproductive Cloning of Human Beings (A/57/51) and of the Working Group which had been set up to carry on with the Ad Hoc Committee’s work during that session.  A new working group was convened within the Sixth Committee during the fifty-eighth session to continue work undertaken previously on the subject.


Two draft resolutions are circulating in the Committee.  One by Costa Rica, (document A/C.6/59/L.2) co-sponsored by many countries, would have the General Assembly reconvene the Ad Hoc Committee in 2005 to prepare, as a matter of urgency, a draft text of an international convention against human cloning.  The draft text would not prohibit the use of nuclear transfer or other cloning techniques to produce DNA molecules, organs, plants, tissues, cells other than human embryos or animals other than human beings.  The Assembly would further recommend that work on the subject to continue within the framework of a working group of the Sixth Committee.


The other draft text (document A/C.6/59/L.8) by Belgium and a number of countries would also have the General Assembly reconvene the Ad Hoc Committee to prepare, as a matter of urgency, and possibly by the end of 2005, a draft international convention against the reproductive cloning of human beings.  By the draft text, contracting parties would be obligated to take action to control other forms of human cloning.


Also before the Committee is an information note by the Holy See (document A/C.6/59/INF/1) stating its position on the question.


Introduction of Drafts


ROBERTO TOVAR, Foreign Minister of Costa Rica introduced the draft resolution on an international convention against human cloning (document A/C.6/59/INF/L.2).  He said the development of biotechnology offered great possibilities but human cloning for either the purpose of creating identical copies or for scientific experimentation required the utmost caution.  He could not accept the deliberate creation of human embryos for the explicit purpose of destroying them for scientific experiments as was done in “therapeutic” cloning.  Equally, he rejected any attempts to create “copies” of other human beings.  Both were an affront to human dignity.


Further, he said, experimental cloning was unnecessary.  Adult stem cells could cure the same diseases as embryonic ones.  Also, allowing experimental cloning would create the conditions for unscrupulous scientists to attempt reproductive cloning.  The resolution he was introducing reaffirmed that human cloning was incompatible with the respect for human dignity.  It expressed the Assembly’s intention to promote scientific research in the areas of biology and genetics in a way that respected human rights.  It expressed concern for the potential exploitation of women as egg donors.  It called for reconvening the Ad Hoc Committee to formulate a convention that called for a ban on those forms of cloning that resulted in a human embryo.


Finally, he said it called on States to prohibit research on human cloning until the convention was adopted and to adopt measures to prohibit genetic engineering techniques that could impact on human dignity negatively.  It requested the funds that would have gone into such research to be redirected to combating the health problems affecting developing countries.


MARC PECSTEEN (Belgium) introduced the draft resolution on an international convention against the reproductive cloning of human beings (document A/C.6/59/L.8).  He said the draft was not a contradiction of the one offered by Costa Rica.  It did not exclude the possibility for a State to forbid all forms of human cloning and the future convention explicitly foresaw that possibility.  The draft was also not a proposal in favour of therapeutic cloning but only acknowledged the differences of opinion on that question.  The draft essentially focused on what united delegations rather than divided them on an approach.


The draft proposed the elaboration of a convention that would institute a categorical and effective interdiction of the reproductive cloning of human beings, he said.  That common denominator would be supported by most of the States now involved in scientific research pertaining to the field.  That specification was crucial, since the Costa Rican proposal would lead to a convention not supported by States whose scientific potential made their participation crucial.


In sum, he said, the draft contained a mandate for a convention that would cover reproductive cloning and other forms of human cloning simultaneously so as to meet the wishes of delegations to treat the two questions in the framework of a single instrument.  Reproductive cloning would be banned without exception.  As to other forms of cloning, three options were offered:  they could either be banned, submitted to a moratorium or regulated through national legislation that submitted research to strict controls to avoid misuse.  The nature of those controls could be elaborated in the convention.


It was precisely because certain irresponsible scientists had announced their intention to attempt human cloning that urgent action was required before it was too late, he said.  He regretted the Committee’s inability to fulfil the mandate handed to it three years ago to elaborate a convention limited to the interdiction of reproductive cloning.  The title of the item recalled that mandate.  What was the point of trying to force a vote?  There would be no added value in the urgently needed convention without a consensus on its scope and international law should not be founded on a vote that divided the international community.  A vote would lead to a number of delegations not taking part in elaborating the convention.  A compromise formula must be found in a constructive spirit to allow consensus.


JONNY SINAGA (Indonesia) said the Ad Hoc Committee should assume responsibility for elaborating an international convention against the reproductive cloning of human beings.  In lieu of such a convention, he said States should endeavour strictly to supervise cloning research, including research intended to be beneficial to human beings.  Indonesia believed that a common position could be achieved during the debate on the fact that all research on the subject should be inspired by the best interests of the human race, and not its exploitation or degradation.  Indonesia welcomed and encouraged the initiatives by concerned parties to achieve a consensus.  He hoped deliberations would lead to a solid conclusion that was in the best interests of mankind.


SHIN KAK-SOO (Republic of Korea) said his country strongly believed in the tremendous potential of therapeutic cloning to bring light and hope to hundreds of millions of patients and their families who suffered from incurable diseases and injuries.  While he recognized that the ethical aspects of human cloning should receive serious consideration, he did not believe that it justified a total ban on all forms of human cloning.  A total ban would shut the door on remarkable potential breakthroughs in the long-running battle of human beings against intractable diseases and injuries such as multiple sclerosis, diabetes, cancer and spinal cord injury.


He made two proposals:  the holding of a scientific conference next year to produce a more accurate factual picture about the current human cloning technology and its various implications; and secondly, the compilation by the Secretariat of domestic laws and regulations on human cloning to be distributed to all Member States.  He believed the proposals could help the Committee gain better perspective on the issue and build a consensus on its future direction.  He called upon the Committee not to rush to a vote on the subject.


HIROSHI TAJIMA (Japan) endorsed the statement of Belgium on behalf of co-sponsors to the draft resolution.  He said an international convention should be acceptable to as many countries as possible.  Japan did not support the position that all human cloning should be prohibited.  He said that while recognizing ethical and social issues, it was not appropriate to close the door on future scientific and technological progress, when it had the potential to save lives threatened by serious diseases.


He also said that various aspects such as historical, ethical, cultural and religious traditions of each country should be respected in formulating a convention on the issue  It believed that reproductive cloning of human beings had to be banned as soon as possible.  The prohibition by a convention should therefore be limited.  No premature action should be taken by the Committee and that Members should continue to explore ways to achieve consensus.   


GOKCEN TUGRAL (Turkey), speaking for the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), recalled the deadlock on the issue in the Committee last year and said it was in the Committee’s interest to avoid a repeat of the situation.  Consensus must be reached on the question and neither side must force a vote.  The Ad Hoc Committee would meet with the same situation if it was given a mandate to elaborate a convention that had been handed to it by a divided Committee.  He supported a total ban on reproductive cloning of human beings and called for consensus on how to deal with all forms of human cloning.  A universally acceptable convention on the matter was possible only if based on consensus.


MARTIN ANDJABA (Namibia) said he opposed the reproductive cloning of human beings and supported the speedy conclusion of a convention prohibiting it.  States should continue medical research toward therapeutic cloning and those which wanted to impose a comprehensive ban through national legislation should do so.  Hopefully, consensus could be found on a convention banning reproductive cloning.


MARJATTA RASI (Finland) condemned all efforts to reproduce human beings by cloning.  She said reproductive cloning was contrary to human dignity and should be banned but other types of therapeutic cloning showed great promise.  The divergent views on the matter, however, were based on deep convictions and should be mutually respected.  That should be the guide to deliberations on the matter.  The draft introduced by Belgium represented a consensus solution with respect to the scope of the convention on human cloning.  It expressly prohibited reproductive cloning and left the question of therapeutic cloning up to States.


EMYR JONES PARRY (United Kingdom) said his country would like to see a worldwide ban on reproductive cloning and would support any United Nations initiative that would achieve an effective global prohibition.  However, the United Kingdom could not support any attempt to ban or unreasonably restrict cloning for research purposes, known as therapeutic cloning.  It was convinced that such cloning held enormous promise for new treatments for serious degenerative conditions that were currently incurable.  In the United Kingdom, therapeutic cloning was allowed because of the huge potential for health benefits, but it was very strictly regulated.


He stressed that the United Kingdom understood and respected the cultural, social and religious difference that might lead other countries to reach different conclusions on what type of research they permitted. It would be totally wrong for the United Nations to attempt to over-ride the position reached in the United Kingdom.


He made it clear that should the United Nations proceed to develop a convention banning both therapeutic and reproductive human cloning, the United Kingdom would not participate in the negotiation of such a convention and would not sign up to it. Therapeutic cloning research would continue to be permitted in the United Kingdom, he declared. The British Government supported the Belgian draft resolution which rightly left national governments to decide what should happen on their territory.


SEBASTIAO POVOAS (Portugal) said his country was deeply worried that allowing therapeutic cloning with embryos up to five or six days would inevitably lead to a sliding slope towards other, totally unacceptable forms of cloning.  No one could seriously pretend that if that cloning were allowed there would be any way of enforcing its limitations.  It just would not happen, he added.


Portugal also considered as totally unacceptable the social risks and dangers that allowing those procedures would create in developing countries.  He said millions of women could be offered money in exchange for their egg cells.  It would be a frightening scenario which would create an enormous problem with unpredictable consequences.


RONALDO MOTA SARDENBERG (Brazil), said he supported the proposal put forward by Belgium on a convention against the reproductive cloning of human beings.  The text was pragmatic and principled.  It recognized that scientific data and ethical considerations gave rise to conflicting points of view.  It also reflected one fundamental point of consensus, that cloning for human reproduction was morally unacceptable.  It did not preclude the adoption of stricter standards at the national level.


He said his country repudiated the use of embryos and DNA manipulation for eugenic purposes but recognized the potential of therapeutic cloning.  Moral grounds for condemning therapeutic cloning were not clear cut and could benefit from the clarity of more research.  While the world expected results from the Committee, the gravity of the question dictated a solid basis both scientifically and ethically.  A consensus on the issue was strongly advised because wide acceptance of the future convention was crucial.


VANU GOPALA MENON (Singapore) said he regretted that three years had passed with nothing to show on the issue, when all were agreed that human reproductive cloning must be prohibited as a matter of greatest urgency.  Why?  Because a group of States had adopted an all-or-nothing attitude and paralysed the process in a bid to broaden the mandate to ban all forms of cloning, both reproductive and therapeutic.  In place of a much needed real debate on an issue of global urgency, the voice of reason was being stifled by the voice of power from capitals.


No one had a monopoly over truth and it was the start of evil to think that one party did, he said.  The Belgian proposal would ban reproductive cloning and allow countries to decide for themselves what was best based on their unique situation and cultural understanding.  On the argument that therapeutic cloning ought to be banned because the technology was uncertain, it should be kept in mind that all scientific research was uncertain.  Only the knowledge gained shed light and directed the way.  It was troubling that a group of States not only wanted to close the doors to scientific research but wanted to impose its value judgments on others.  As the late stem-cell-research advocate American actor Christopher Reeve had pointed out, all new technology came with the potential for abuse but when the benefit was great enough, the answer was to proceed with the greatest precautions.


BRIGETTE COLLET (France) said the French Government and parliament had debated the subject of human cloning in great depth and that last August a law had been adopted on bio-technology banning human and therapeutic cloning.  Offenders could be prosecuted.  Scientific research was allowed for a limited period.  That allowed France to participate in international research.  France felt that there was no universal consensus on banning all cloning.  The result was a rule that tried to do too much and was not universal.


There was an urgent need for a convention to ban all reproductive cloning. The most effective way to move forward was to de-link therapeutic cloning from reproductive cloning.  States must share information on national laws and experiences.  France had co-sponsored the Belgian draft, she said.


KALRAJ MISHRA (India) said his country had been in the forefront of promoting scientific and technological research in the fields of biology and genetics.  It recognized that rapid development of the life sciences opened up prospects for improvement of the health of individuals and that new technology resulting from stem cells research could be used for finding ways to heal serious diseases.  He said a responsible State regulated the use of technology by striking a balance between ethical standards and social necessities and benefits.


India believed that every country had a right to choose appropriate technological methods and procedures as long as those were in tune with universally accepted standards of human dignity.  He reiterated his country’s position that different forms and methods of cloning other than reproductive cloning could be regulated by national legislation with stringent conditions and regulatory approvals on a case-by-case basis.


JUANA RAMOS RODRIGUEZ (Cuba) believed that therapeutic cloning had considerable scientific advantages. Despite its benefits, States should impose strict controls. However, whatever type of regulations adopted should not lead to a ban on research. Cuba had co-sponsored the Belgian draft text.  It was a viable realistic proposal which protected the integrity of mankind. She believed there was a consensus in support of the draft text.


MATTHEW AILEAONE (New Zealand) said he was prepared to support the initiation of negotiations toward a convention on banning reproductive cloning while being unable to support negotiations on a broader ban against all forms of cloning.  His country had still not had an opportunity to draw conclusions about the advantages and disadvantages of therapeutic cloning.  Consultations were being held between members of the Government and experts in the fields of science and ethics.  In the meantime, the need for a convention on human cloning was urgent and needed the widest consensus, possible to achieve only by adopting a graduated approach toward the question.


MARY MORGAN-MOSS (Panama) said she supported the Costa Rican proposal.  The use of human embryos for research was counter to a respect for human dignity.


JIA GUIDE (China) said three years of work had produced no movement.  All sides were now deeply entrenched in their own views.  He supported a ban of reproductive cloning and he was in favour of leaving the question of therapeutic cloning open for States to make decisions.  Since there was a consensus on the need to ban reproductive cloning, the only logical step was to go forward on that.


In order to achieve consensus and effectively ban reproductive cloning of humans, he said, his country was willing to withdraw its objection to including provisions on regulating therapeutic cloning in the convention against the reproductive cloning of human beings.  That was an important concession made out of respect for the morals and standards of other countries.  It was being offered in the interest of meeting the pressing urgency for all countries to benefit from the banning of reproductive human cloning through international legislations.  As the country’s ancestors had admonished, all should live and let live, prosper and let prosper.  None should do to others what wasn’t wanted for the self.  All should rise above differences and respect diversity to produce an outcome on this matter this year.


ALFRED M. DUBE (Botswana), speaking for members of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) said that they believed that the issue of human reproductive cloning was repugnant to all nations, and subscribed to its complete ban.  It was their hope that the General Assembly would reach a consensus or an international convention that prohibited all forms of reproductive human cloning. On the other hand they accepted that a case had been made in the scientific community of the need for the merits of research in embryos for therapeutic purposes to be considered.  He informed the Committee of the results of a conference of the SADC Ministers of Health last August which considered a number of issues, including moral, ethical and religious implications.


MARIA TELALIAN (Greece) said the draft submitted by Belgium was a balanced text that focused on the banning of reproductive cloning, an issue on which all were agreed.  Further delay in outlawing that activity could hinder efforts to prevent abuses.  The draft did not advocate cloning for therapeutic purposes.  It did not exclude the possibility of a State forbidding all forms of human cloning.  It left to States the decision to allow or prohibit therapeutic cloning while emphasizing the need to establish a strict regulatory framework aimed at eradicating abuses.  Independent authorities should play a role in dealing with the ethical issues of developing the framework.


DUMISANI KUMALO (South Africa) said he would join forces with the rest of the SADC community to continue to study the question of therapeutic cloning while calling for an instrument to absolutely prohibit reproductive cloning.  Both sides in the debate should refrain from forcing a decision during the current session that would shut the door on future consideration of therapeutic cloning.  But the Committee should send the message that reproductive cloning was prohibited.  


BONIFACE CHIDYAUSIKU (Zimbabwe) said he was totally opposed to creating a person that was a genetically identical copy of another.  The concern about cloning was akin to concerns at other scientific dawns of history.  While he supported a ban of reproductive cloning of humans, the door must be left open for further study of all aspects of therapeutic cloning.  A decision on such an important issue should not be taken by ballot.  Consensus should build patiently to a broad consensus.  A decision on the question should be deferred to the next Assembly session.


ARCHBISHOP CELESTINO MIGLIORE, Permanent Observer of the Holy See, said the therapeutic progress already achieved with so-called adult stem cells should be pursued.  The distinction sometimes drawn between reproductive and therapeutic cloning seemed specious.  Both involved the same technical process and differed only in goal.  Both involved disrespect for the dignity of the human being, making one life nothing more than the instrument of another.  Given the fact that cloned embryos would be indistinguishable from those created by in vitro fertilization, enforcing an instrument that banned one and not the other would be impossible.  He supported an international juridical instrument that comprehensively banned human embryonic cloning.


ORIO IKEBE, Representative of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), said two documents pertinent to the subject were available from her organization.  One was an information kit on the ethical elements of human cloning.  It contained an updated list on national legislation concerning human reproductive and therapeutic cloning.  Available in English and French, it was the state-of-the art document on cloning research and the ethical considerations involved.  The UNESCO produced it in its capacity as the United Nations body entrusted with ethical issues to give States a basis for their considerations on the matter.  The other document was the International Declaration on Human Genetic Data, which focused on the principles of respect for human dignity and human rights with respect to genetic materials.  Clearly, universal norms on bioethics were needed.  More information could be found on the UNESCO Web site.


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For information media. Not an official record.