- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 9, 2005

NEW YORK — A divided U.N. General Assembly, in a victory for the Bush administration, yesterday urged governments to ban all human cloning, including the cloning of human embryos for stem-cell research.

Capping four years of contentious debate, the assembly voted 84-34, with 37 abstentions, to approve a nonbinding statement on cloning. Thirty-six members were absent from the 191-member assembly.

President Bush applauded the declaration.

“The United States and the international community have now spoken clearly that human cloning is an affront to human dignity and that we must work together to protect human life,” he said in a statement.

The United States did not play a public role in promoting the statement. But it had worked behind the scenes, hand in hand with U.S. pro-life groups, to obtain a call for a blanket ban on all cloning.

The measure was proposed by Honduras and generally supported by predominantly Roman Catholic countries, in line with Pope John Paul II’s condemnation of human cloning. It was generally opposed by nations where stem-cell research is being pursued.

Cathy Cleaver Ruse, director of planning for the Pro-Life Secretariat of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, hailed the vote as a “powerful statement in favor of the dignity and inviolability of human life.”

The United States and Britain, traditionally staunch allies in the United Nations, found themselves on opposite sides of the issue, and Britain condemned the “intransigence” of nations opposed to cloning for medical reasons.

Many Islamic nations were among those abstaining, on grounds there was no U.N. consensus on the hot-button issue of whether stem-cell research was a valid medical pursuit or the destruction of human life.

Opponents said the text was not legally binding and would have no impact on their scientists’ pursuit of stem-cell research.

The vote reflected a diversity of approaches around the world to the cloning issue.

Countries such as Canada, Australia, France and Sweden have joined the United States in allowing the use of some existing human embryos for research, but banning the creation of embryos solely for research purposes.

Brazil, Peru and Ireland are among the countries that prohibit all embryonic research.

But Cuba, Israel, Japan and Singapore follow Britain in permitting research even on newly formed embryos, while China allows research on embryos younger than 14 days and also permits the implantation of human genes into animal eggs.

South Korea has enacted a law that permits the cloning of human cells. Cloning human beings remains illegal, but scientists can use fertilized eggs that are not being used by fertility clinics.

At the heart of the debate is so-called therapeutic cloning, in which human embryos are cloned to obtain stem cells used in medical studies and later discarded.

Many scientists, backed by pro-cloning governments, say the technique offers hope for a cure to about 100 million people with such conditions as Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, diabetes and spinal cord injuries.

But the United States, Costa Rica, Italy and pro-life groups are among those arguing that this type of research, for whatever purpose, constitutes the taking of human lives.

The U.N. debate began with a 2001 proposal by France and Germany for a binding global treaty banning the cloning of human beings, a plan that had broad international backing.

But that effort failed last year after the Bush administration fought to broaden the ban to all cloning of human embryos, including therapeutic cloning.

The assembly’s treaty-writing legal committee, deeply divided, abandoned the idea of a treaty and decided instead to pursue a nonbinding declaration.

Costa Rican Ambassador Bruno Stagno Ugarte praised the assembly vote as “a historic step” that recognized “that therapeutic cloning involves the creation of human life for the purpose of destroying it.”

U.S. envoy Sichan Siv made only a brief comment welcoming the statement.

But British Ambassador Emyr Jones Parry, who voted “no,” lamented “the intransigence of those who were not prepared to recognize that other sovereign states — after extensive dialogue and due democratic process — may decide to permit strictly controlled applications of therapeutic cloning.”

Researcher John Haydon contributed to this report.

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