- The Washington Times - Friday, November 19, 2004

NEW YORK — The United States yesterday lost ground in its three-year quest to outlaw cloning for research purposes, as the U.N. General Assembly prepared to adopt a declaration that allows nations to make their own rules.

There is universal agreement to prohibit reproductive cloning of human beings. However, states have been deeply divided over whether to permit medical research.

With some viewing the practice as the destruction of human life and others as a potentially lifesaving avenue of medical research, “we thought it would be unbearable for the international community to be divided on an issue like cloning,” said Moroccan Ambassador Mohamed Bennouna, chairman of the assembly’s treaty-writing legal committee.

Instead, the world body will issue a nonbinding declaration against the practice, while allowing nations to continue human cloning for therapeutic research.

The Italian delegation late Thursday evening circulated a draft that will be the basis for discussions early next year, when the General Assembly committees resume their work.

Either way, the effort to create treaty language appears to have been abandoned, despite a plea from President Bush to lay down a total cloning ban when he spoke to the General Assembly in September.

The Italian compromise is an attempt to bridge the enormous gap between two draft resolutions in the General Assembly: the Costa Rican draft, which has more than 60 co-sponsors and prohibits all forms of human cloning, and the Belgian draft, which has more than 20 co-sponsors and recognizes each nation’s right to make its own regulations, short of reproduction.

The Costa Rican draft had the avid support of the Vatican and the United States, where cloning had become an election issue and remains a subject of lively spiritual and scientific debate.

The Belgian draft won the support of many European nations, as well as countries with budding biotechnology industries.

A vote on either one was considered to be too divisive, said diplomats, who hoped to find a compromise or a postponement.

A U.S. official yesterday said Washington was satisfied with the language.

“This is a message to the world, and that message is important, that you should not create human life through cloning,” she said. “We would be very satisfied to see that message get out and see momentum building behind this draft.”

But the Belgian side was less enthusiastic, saying Italy had undermined an approved text by changing a few words.

Specifically, many of the two dozen countries publicly supporting the Belgian draft fear that a human embryo could be considered “human life,” if not yet a human being. Under that definition, even research cloning would be illegal.

The deadlock has persisted for nearly three years, even before a human baby reputedly was cloned by the Raelian group in Florida.

The new draft contains language that would, in theory, permit responsible research in countries that already allow it, while including the Vatican’s concerns for the dignity of life.

The statement says signatories are “mindful of the serious medical, physical, psychological and social dangers that human cloning may imply for the individuals involved, and also conscious of the need to ensure that human cloning does not give rise to the exploitation of women.”

It also calls on all member states to pass national legislation to ban reproductive cloning and to take measures that “prohibit applications of genetic engineering techniques that may be contrary to human dignity.”

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