ETHICAL ISSUES STRESSED AS LEGAL COMMITTEE CONTINUES DEBATE ON TWO DRAFT TEXTS ON HUMAN CLONING

GA/L/3258
22 October 2004

ETHICAL ISSUES STRESSED AS LEGAL COMMITTEE CONTINUES DEBATE ON TWO DRAFT TEXTS ON HUMAN CLONING

22/10/2004
Press Release
GA/L/3258

Fifty-ninth General Assembly

Sixth Committee

12th Meeting (AM)


Ethical issues stressed as Legal Committee continues

 

debate on two draft texts on Human Cloning

 


United States among Those Arguing for Total Ban, Others

Seek Exceptions for Research; Most Say Consensus Urgently Needed


Delegations urged consensus on widely divergent views contained in two draft resolutions on approaches to an international convention against the reproductive cloning of human beings, as the Sixth Committee (Legal) met this morning to conclude debate on the issue.


One draft, introduced yesterday by Costa Rica, called for a total ban on human cloning, including that for therapeutic and scientific purposes.  The other, also introduced yesterday, by Belgium, called for a total ban of reproductive cloning while leaving open the question of therapeutic cloning to let States decide on whether to ban it, impose a moratorium or regulate it.


The representative of Cyprus today supported Belgium’s proposal as a sensible compromise between opposing views, in order to avoid a vote on the matter.  She said the debate on the ethical, moral and scientific aspects of therapeutic cloning could take many years, and it was the universally backed view that there was a critical need now for an international legal instrument against reproductive cloning.


Kenya’s representative said all human cloning was reproductive in effect.  He argued that the risks of therapeutic cloning leading to the birth of a cloned human were too great to allow.  The question went beyond cultural or religious differences.  He said an analogy could be drawn with the contrast between cultural relativism and the universality of human rights.  A common universal standard applied, despite differences.


The representative of the United States said her delegation strongly supported a ban on all cloning of human embryos, saying a ban that differentiated between human, reproductive and experimental cloning essentially authorized the creation of a human embryo for the purpose of destroying it.  Experimental embryonic cloning would turn nascent human life into a resource or commodity to be mined and exploited, eroding the sense of worth and dignity of the individual.


Malaysia’s representative drew a distinction between reproductive and therapeutic cloning by pointing out that the emphasis in therapeutic cloning was on cloned DNA rather than the production of a genetically identical copy of another human being.


The representative of Timor-Leste said the issue did not warrant lengthy debate.  It required action now.  It did not easily lend itself to consensus.  Consensus was important, but those supporting the total ban encompassed the full range of religions and faiths, developing and developed countries.  He could not support embryonic stem cell research, but fully supported adult stem cell and umbilical cord stem cell research, both of which had yielded actual and promising benefits.


Sudan’s delegate said the debate in the Committee was productive precisely because of the divergent views on the complex topic under consideration.  His country opposed both reproductive and therapeutic cloning, but also recognized that the intent of therapeutic cloning was positive and humanitarian.  He was not ready to abandon his conviction that it should not be done, but neither was he willing to push his views on others.


Mexico’s representative suggested that consensus be reached by a three-step process:  a multidisciplinary group of experts would be brought together to shed light on all aspects of cloning; based on those results, the Ad Hoc Committee would brief the General Assembly; the Assembly would direct that negotiations begin for a broad-based convention.


Also speaking this morning were the representatives of Slovakia, Ghana, Jordan, Nigeria, Honduras, Fiji, Italy, Norway, Sweden, Thailand, Sierra Leone, Germany, Ethiopia, Philippines, Uganda, El Salvador, Viet Nam, Gambia, Senegal, Paraguay and Nicaragua.


A counsellor of the Permanent Observer Mission of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta also spoke.


The Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. on Monday (25 October) to conclude debate on the scope of legal protection under the Convention on the Safety of United Nations and Associated Personnel and to take up the Convention on jurisdictional immunities of States and their property.


Background


The Sixth Committee (Legal) met this morning to conclude debate on an international convention against the reproductive cloning of human beings.  (For background on the cloning issue, see Press Release GA/L/3257 of 21 October.)


Statements


MAREK SMID (Slovakia) said his country’s Constitution provided that human life deserved protection before birth.  It had accepted and fully implemented a provision of the 1997 Council of Europe Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine which prohibited creation of human embryos for research purposes.  In cases of research on embryos in vitro, Slovakia ensured their protection.  In 1998, a total ban of human cloning was introduced into the country’s domestic laws, and in 2003, it was criminalized with the amendment of the criminal code.


Slovakia continued to strongly prefer the elaboration of a comprehensive international legal framework that would ban all kinds of human cloning –- reproductive and therapeutic.  Only that approach would protect human dignity.  It supported draft resolution L.2 presented by Costa Rica yesterday


ROBERT TACHIEMENSON (Ghana) said the dignity of human life was not negotiable and that human life in all its various manifestations must be protected.  While medical science and research must be allowed to advance for the benefit of mankind, it must be within the context of the safeguards and guarantees provided by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and other international instruments that scientific research and activities in that area allowed.


A relevant question was under what conditions research into therapeutic cloning should be allowed, and whether that research should be permitted at all.  It might be possible for the necessary legal and institutional framework for that purpose to be drawn up to protect society against abuses and irresponsible use of knowledge in that field.  It was only through a balanced approach that a system could be instituted that did not stifle scientific research.  He urged the adoption of that approach.


MAHMOUD HMOUD (Jordan) said it supported a universal and total ban on reproductive cloning through a legal instrument which also provided an option for States to decide how to deal with the problem at the national level.  It thought that approach more effective and practical.  It would respect the differences of opinion and allow States to act in accordance with their national interests.


The mandate to be given to the Ad Hoc Committee should be agreed to by all delegations to avoid a stalemate in the negotiations on the draft convention.


ELENA THOMA (Cyprus) said her country was firmly opposed to the reproductive cloning of human beings and outlined national binding legislation that had been enacted against it, as well as international steps towards making such cloning not only unethical but also illegal.  The approach of the Belgian proposal was a realistic compromise solution to the split among delegations on an approach to an international instrument on the subject.  It proposed to deal with human cloning in a single legal document that mandated a convention with two elements:  imposing a total prohibition of reproductive cloning, while regulating the issue of therapeutic cloning.  In the case of non-reproductive cloning, States would have the options of totally prohibiting it, imposing a moratorium while waiting for a definitive stance, or imposing strict regulation on the exercise of such activities.


She said she understood and appreciated the concerns of the many delegations sponsoring the opposing draft.  However, the debate on the ethical, moral and scientific aspects could take many more years.  In the absence of an international legal instrument, the unethical and illegal practices universally condemned would be allowed.  A successful mandate for such a convention required consensus.  There must not be a vote.  Other means of reaching consensus must be explored.


FELIX AWANBOR (Nigeria) said the question under review was of special concern to States.  There was general agreement on the need to ban reproductive human cloning.  The reasoning that therapeutic cloning was justified ignored the fact that both reproductive and therapeutic cloning used the same technology and the same embryo.  Embryonic stem cell experimentation was a morally and ethically indefensible activity that was an affront to human dignity.  The notion of a partial ban on reproductive cloning was untenable and misleading.  He was a sponsor of the resolution proposing an international instrument that would be total ban on human cloning.  It was gaining support.  Others should endorse it.


JUDITH MBULA BAHEMUKA (Kenya) said all human cloning was reproductive in effect.  The argument that embryonic stem cells held the potential of developing the cure for incurable diseases fell short of reality:  it was a complex moral and ethical question with no demonstrable progress after years of research.  It had also proved that clones were beset with genetic abnormalities.  In answer to those delegations arguing that the Belgian proposal respected diversity, the fact that therapeutic cloning required such strict State regulation was proof of its high risk.  The cloning of humans should not be a national matter left to the whims of States.


He said an analogy could be drawn with the contrast between cultural relativism and the universality of human rights.  Despite cultural, religious, social and political differences, a common universal human right standard was adopted and applied.  A similar standard should apply in respect to cloning, a matter that touched on human dignity.


MANUEL ACOSTA BONILLA (Honduras) said he supported the Costa Rican text because of his country’s belief in the sanctity of human life.  He detailed national legislation that guided the country’s moral standards in the area of protecting human rights and human dignity.  He said it was impossible to separate therapeutic cloning from reproductive cloning.  An international instrument on a total ban on human cloning was necessary.


SAINIVALATI NAVOTI (Fiji) said his country also supported the Costa Rican draft text.  Because of the long delays in arriving at a conclusion over the issue of cloning and the scientific advances made in the last four years, he said, his delegation would not be surprised to see an artificially cloned human baby being paraded in the halls of the General Assembly; if that unfortunate situation became a reality, delegations would have failed humanity.  The only viable way to settle the issue lay in a vote on the issue, he said.


MARCELLO SPATAFORA (Italy) said the distinction between reproductive cloning and therapeutic cloning was a false one.  The failures of experiments using human embryos indicated that the supporters of therapeutic cloning should take a more cautious approach.  There was no reason why scientific progress should have to come at the expense of human dignity.  He recalled a European Parliament vote on 29 January this year which reiterated its call for a worldwide ban on the cloning of humans, and said he supported the Costa Rican initiative.


ASMUND ERIKSEN (Norway) said he opposed not only reproductive cloning of humans but also therapeutic cloning, out of respect for the inviolability of life and a moral stance on the equal value of all humans.  That position was incorporated into national legislation, which prohibited both forms of human cloning.  He was a sponsor of the Costa Rican proposal.


YASIR ABDELSALAM (Sudan) said the debate in the Committee was productive precisely because of the divergent views on the complex topic under consideration.  The very strength of the positions being expressed gave hope for consensus to be achieved.  But how could that happen?  Who would be willing to compromise on their religious beliefs?  The great divergences in views could be overcome by working towards a middle position.  His country opposed both reproductive and therapeutic cloning, but also recognized that the intent of therapeutic cloning was positive and humanitarian.  He was not ready to abandon his conviction that it should not be done, but neither was he willing to push his views on others.  The dialogue on the issue should work towards the middle ground between those two positions.


HAJI WAHAB HAJI DOLLAH (Malaysia) drew a distinction between reproductive and therapeutic cloning by pointing out that the emphasis in therapeutic cloning was on cloned DNA rather than the production of a genetically identical copy of another human being.  Cloning was a new science that warranted caution, but the promising area of scientific inquiry must not be closed off because of justified fears.  With the appropriate legal and other safeguards, research could go forward under the bright light of public scrutiny.


ANDERS LIDÉN (Sweden) said the issue of stem cell research raised questions involving ethics, values and human dignity.  An ethical discussion of stem cell research must strike a balance between different values, principles and interests.  His country’s position was summed up in the draft offered by Belgium.  It called for a total ban on reproductive cloning of humans, and national regulation of therapeutic ones.  He sincerely respected the supporters of the other draft on the sensitive matter.  The job before the Committee, however, was not to negotiate the virtues of scientific methods or research techniques.  The task here was to mandate further negotiations and set the framework for a universally acceptable convention.  The convention to be formulated must be based on consensus and must represent an all-inclusive approach towards the common goal of banning reproductive cloning of human beings.


ITTIPORN BOONPRACONG (Thailand) said reproductive cloning should be banned.  Embryonic cell research, if closely regulated, could offer significant potential and medical benefits.  Thailand had not passed legislation on the matter, he said, but scientific bodies in the country had issued guidelines which imposed certain conditions upon researchers.  He hoped that differences in the Committee on the question would be narrowed for a common action to be taken.  He urged relevant United Nations bodies to disseminate information on the matter.  The Secretariat should compile domestic laws and regulations of Member States on the subject of cloning for circulation, as had been suggested by some delegations.


ALLIEU I. KANU (Sierra Leone) said that a ban on reproductive cloning was not the same as prohibiting all forms of cloning, especially therapeutic cloning.  He believed that a cloned human embryo created for research was identical to one created in a live birth.  He had not heard arguments to negate that view, he said.  It was for the Committee to secure human dignity, particularly that of women in the developing world.


CHRISTIAN MUCH (Germany) said his country deeply regretted that no agreement had been reached almost three years after the General Assembly established the Ad Hoc Committee at the initiative of Germany and France. While the Committee was at a standstill, recent developments in the field of human cloning had shown that international regulations were needed to be put in place most urgently.


His delegation continued to believe that it would not be the right approach for a solution to be sought by vote.  The decision at hand was about a norm-setting procedure, and Germany had very serious doubts that the goal of a universally ratified legal instrument could be achieved by a split vote.  Its national laws prohibited all forms of cloning, and it favoured that being a worldwide standard.  However, it remained committed to a consensus to achieve a universally binding instrument.


BERHANMESKEL ABEBE (Ethiopia) said human life began at conception.  To kill embryos was to kill human beings.  Human life should not be the object of experimentation.  The call to ban all forms of cloning was a call to prevent the creation of life just to kill it.  Any cloning methods that produced stem cells without killing embryos would be acceptable, but with regard to therapeutic or reproductive cloning there was no difference.  To ban all cloning was to protect all of life.  After all, was the purpose of life to serve science or was science supposed to serve life?  Instead of cloning, scientific efforts should be directed towards curing diseases in ways that did not demean life.


EMMA SARNE (Philippines) expressed full support for the draft resolution calling for an international instrument that would ban all forms of human cloning, reproductive and therapeutic.  She said that allowing the practice of therapeutic cloning would perpetuate and would perfect the technology that would eventually be used to clone human beings.  It would lead to thoughts of human embryos being produced in laboratories.  The abhorrent reality that would result from criminal motives or financial reward were grim for the entire international community; the birth of a single cloned baby would be one too many.  The difference in approach between the two drafts before the Committee could not be more palpable:  one sought to ban human cloning, while the other sought to continue its practice.  Delegations could now choose between an approach that upheld human dignity and one that subordinated it to the unproven benefits and perils of human cloning.


NYIRINKINDI ROSSETTE KATUNGYE (Uganda) said she supported the ban of all reproductive closing, including the form of therapeutic based on embryonic stem cells.  Contrary to the claims of some delegations, the Costa Rica-backed proposal did not stand in the way of science.  It called for a promotion of scientific and technical progress in a manner respecting human rights, which covered therapeutic cloning as long as it used adult stem cell research.  No one had so far benefited from embryonic stem cell research, and the reliance on donor eggs posed the threat of eroding the family integrity and exploiting women.  The Committee must step up to the plate and achieve a convention that banned all forms of cloning that were counter to preserving the dignity of mankind.


SUSAN MOORE (United States) said her country strongly supported a ban on all cloning of human embryos, both for reproductive and so-called “therapeutic”, “research” or “experimental” purposes.  It, therefore, supported the Costa Rican text.  A ban that differentiated between human reproductive and experimental cloning would essentially authorize the creation of a human embryo for the purpose of destroying it.  It would, thus, elevate the value of research and experimentation above that of a human life.  Experimental embryonic cloning would, therefore, turn nascent human life into a resource or commodity to be mined and exploited, eroding the sense of worth and dignity of the individual.


For that reason, she said a partial ban that prohibited reproductive cloning but permitted therapeutic, research, or experimental cloning was unacceptable to the United States and many other countries. Experimental cloning had the potential of exploiting women, because it might create an incentive for egg donations for financial gain.  The President of the United States had expressed his concern that “this would create a massive national market for eggs and egg donors, and exploitation of women’s bodies that we cannot and must not allow”.


GUILLERMO A. MELENDEZ-BARAHONA (El Salvador) said his delegation felt that any action against the human being should be rejected.  It was not opposed to scientific and medical research, especially that which led to the discovery of cures for serious diseases.  Research, however, should be undertaken with respect for human dignity.  El Salvador agreed with those who had expressed concerns about the lack of that respect.  Both reproductive human cloning and therapeutic cloning were unethical.  His delegation endorsed the Costa Rican text, and supported an international convention to ban human reproductive cloning.


NGUYEN THI VAN ANH (Viet Nam) said her country strongly opposed all attempts to clone human beings for reproductive purposes.  It believed there was an urgent need to ban such activity by an international legally binding instrument.  Viet Nam believed that a future instrument should not close the door to therapeutic cloning, if concerned States wished to do so, provided that a strict control was imposed to prevent abuses.  She encouraged all efforts for a consensus to be achieved on a recommendation to the General Assembly.


CRISPIN GREY-JOHNSON (Gambia) said his delegation stood ready to collaborate fully in the elaboration of a convention that would comprehensively ban human cloning . It was aware of the numerous efforts under way to move work on the agenda item forward.  The Gambia cautioned, however, against any hasty actions that might end up dividing the world on that important subject or lead to an instrument that might prove to be unenforceable.


JOAO FREITAS DE CAMARA (Timor-Leste) noted he was one of 60-plus sponsors of the draft resolution calling for a total ban on human cloning.  He said the issue of human cloning was a matter of ethics first, and science second.  Ethical at its core, it did not easily lend itself to compromise.  He was neither dogmatic nor inflexible on political grounds, but could be accused of being that way on ethical grounds.  The core argument was as old as life itself.  He could not support embryonic stem cell research, but fully supported adult stem cell and umbilical cord stem cell research, both of which had yielded actual and promising benefits.


He said the issue did not warrant elaborate debate or extensive consultations.  It required action now.  Consensus was important, but those supporting the total ban encompassed the full range of religions and faiths, in developing and developed countries.  Delegations should decide the question on its merits.


JUAN MANUEL GOMEZ ROBLEDO (Mexico) said an extension had been given for consideration of the cloning question the year before when there was no consensus, and the extended period had not produced enough success.  Still, the consensus on the need to ban reproductive cloning stood out stronger.  In that light, the instrument to be aimed at would be one that totally banned reproductive human cloning and set standards for other types of human cloning.


Two alternatives stood before the Committee now, he said.  Either consensus would be achieved or a number of divergent instruments would be formulated.  They would “water down” and undermine the core effort, which was to ban reproductive human cloning.  Consensus could be reached by a three-step process.  A multidisciplinary group of experts would be brought together to shed light on all aspects of cloning.  On the basis of those results, the Ad Hoc Committee would advise the General Assembly.  The Assembly would direct that negotiations begin for a broad-based convention.


CHEIKH TIDIANE THIAM (Senegal) said he supported the statement made by Turkey, on behalf of the member States of the Organization of the Islamic Organization, and its emphasis on a search for a consensus for the work of the Ad Hoc Committee on the subject.  Senegal did not turn its back on science, but attached more weight to the sanctity of life.  It remained convinced that all efforts should be made to find a positive outcome of the discussions on the subject of cloning.  He urged a consensus that would preserve the long-standing tradition of the Sixth Committee.


TERUMI MATSUO DE CLAVEROL (Paraguay) said right to life was guaranteed under her country’s Constitution.  Her country supported an international convention banning reproductive human cloning which ran counter to that right.  Reproductive human cloning could not be justified.  Her delegation would continue to cooperate in the search for a consensus in the Committee.


MAURICIO A. SOLORZANO (Nicaragua) said his country fully supported a total ban on all forms of human cloning which was an affront to human dignity.  Although therapeutic cloning may benefit mankind, it was unethical and posed many dangers.


MARY REINER BARNES, Counsellor of the Permanent Observer Mission of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, said the Order had supported health-care projects since its founding in 1099.  As the United Nations persevered in assuring the rights and meeting the needs of its member family, it would rise to the challenge presented by the present debate.  It would do so by encouraging pursuit of the scientific potential presented through the demonstrated success of adult stem cell research, while assuring that the rights of individuals were respected.  She supported the Costa Rican draft resolution and reiterated her centuries-old support of advancing medical science.


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For information media. Not an official record.