Wednesday, December 10, 2003

The role of ‘international’ law

In regard to yesterday’s Page One article “Sisters stuck in diplomatic limbo”: The Preamble of the U.N. Charter says, in part: “We the Peoples of the United Nations Determined … to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the person, in the equal rights of men and women.”

It seems to me that when the Islamic countries, with their religion-based doctrine that a child’s father has primary custody from age 7, voluntarily adhere to the United Nations, its charter supersedes any domestic law that conflicts with it.

Article VI of the U.S. Constitution says, in part: “This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall bemadeinPursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land.”

The United States joined the United Nations by treaty, duly ratified by the Senate as the Constitution requires.

If international law can force reluctant sovereign nations to forgo “weapons of mass destruction” can’t it also resolve once and for all — with enforcing “teeth” — whether women are to be legally inferior?


Bowie, Md.

The options for cloning

Your story about the U.N. cloning debate (“U.N. to debate cloning during 2004 presidential race,” World, yesterday) is marred by a misleading description of the policy options at hand.

The article says that “all sides support a ban on cloning to create human beings” but that scientists support (and pro-life groups oppose) “cloning of human cells for medical research.” This is nonsense. Cloning of ordinary cells and tissues is not at issue here.

In fact, most (not all) sides in this debate want to prevent the use of cloning to produce newborn humans. Some (including pro-life groups and many others) want to prevent this by banning the use of the cloning procedure to create human embryos in the first place; others (including some scientific groups) want to allow the creation of the embryos by cloning, but then legally require their destruction at some point before birth. The latter approach is designed to protect the use of cloning to create and destroy human embryos for medical research.

To refer to the cloning of human embryos as merely “cloning cells” obfuscates the issue. Of course, human embryos are made up of one or more cells, but so are human adults. Would we describe a law against slavery (or against commercial trafficking in human embryos and fetuses) as a ban on selling “protoplasm”?

It also is misleading to say that everyone agrees on “a ban on cloning to create human beings” because the key disagreement is what one means by a ban on cloning (and what one means by a human being). Some say a ban on live birth would be a ban on cloning. President Bush, most of the House of Representatives, dozens of senators and a growing number of U.N. delegations disagree.


Deputy director of pro-life activities

U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops


Making condoms accessible

Reading Deborah Simmons’ Friday Op-Ed column, “Condom-mania,” one would think the solution to stopping the spread of HIV is simply to eliminate the availability of condoms and clean needles, stand on a street corner with a megaphone and advocate abstinence as loudly as possible to those most at risk: young people, injection drug users and sexually active adults. Because then, they’ll just stop having sex. Because we told them to. Or because church leaders told them to.

However, rather than relying on claims from well-intentioned opinion leaders, church officials or “AIDS activists,” we should look to the science that supports the facts about condom efficacy and sexual behavior. Then, instead of chastising Mayor Anthony A. Williams and the HIV/AIDS Administration in print and on television, Miss Simmons might just give both Mr. Williams and D.C. HIV/AIDS Administrator Ivan Torres some well-deserved praise for taking a bold and important step to reduce the incidence of new HIV infections in this city.

The fact is that abstinence is the only sure way to prevent HIV transmission. AIDS activists do not, as Miss Simmons claims, “for all practical purposes” reject that notion. We do, however, acknowledge that humans are sexual beings and will continue to engage in sexual activity whether or not parents, religious leaders or peers tell them not to. “For all practical purposes,” in a city where one in 20 adults is estimated to be HIV positive, every sexually active person should have access to condoms.

The fact is that condoms save lives. They are 98 percent to 99 percent effective in preventing the transmission of HIV. These are not the wild claims of HIV/AIDS activists. They are the overwhelming scientific conclusions of dozens of objective researchers whose credentials are impeccable. And they have the backing of the nation’s leading research institutions, including the National Academy of Sciences, the Institute of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health.

Fact: Like it or not, many unmarried people and people young and old in non-monogamous relationships are sexually active. For example, studies show that approximately two-thirds of high school students have engaged in sexual intercourse by the time they graduate.

Should we do all we can to ensure that young people delay sexual activity? Of course we should. However, if telling them not to have sex isn’t working, shouldn’t we empower them to protect themselves by providing them with comprehensive sexual health information that includes science-based messages about both abstinence and condom efficacy?

There are more than 15 million new cases of sexually transmitted diseases in the United States every year. That statistic alone is an indication of the serious consequences of unprotected sex. Providing sexually active people of any age with access to comprehensive sexual health education and information, including the importance of correct and consistent use of condoms, is a sensible and responsible way to help sexually active people protect themselves against HIV infection.

Simply giving away condoms is not going to stop the spread of HIV, but it is a critical component of HIV prevention. Whitman-Walker Clinic and dozens of other community-based organizations in this city work hand in hand with the Department of Health to provide counseling, testing and referral for those who are at risk of infection and those who already are infected.

We must continue to work together and do all we can to stop this deadly disease from infecting any more of our residents.

According to the secretary-general of the United Nations, the world is losing the battle to end the human suffering caused by AIDS. That is as true in Washington as it is in many developing countries. The answer is not to take away one of the critical weapons we have to prevent infection.

The answer is to face the fact that we are all sexual beings who need both information and the tools necessary to prevent HIV infection.


Executive director

Whitman-Walker Clinic


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