Britain, Japan, South Korea, India and scores of other close U.S. allies sought to head off the Bush administration's campaign to seek a global ban on all forms of human cloning, saying it would undercut scientific efforts to develop cures for cancers, diabetes and a host of other diseases.
The administration is leading diplomatic efforts to rally international backing for a Costa Rican resolution that would outlaw all forms of human cloning, including the use of human embryos in stem cell research. The initiative, which President Bush promoted during his Sept. 21 address to the U.N. General Assembly, goes beyond the restrictions imposed on cloning by U.S. law. It would increase pressure on governments to adopt a total ban.
The current dispute revives a highly acrimonious debate on human cloning at the United Nations for the third consecutive year. It mirrors the dispute on human cloning that has played out in the U.S. presidential campaign. President Bush and Sen John F. Kerry have staked out sharply different positions, with the Democratic candidate advocating the use of human embryos from fertility clinics to pursue medical research. Bush has provided federal funding for research on a limited line of human embryos for stem cell research. But he also backs legislation that would criminalize therapeutic cloning.
U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan weighed in on the debate Thursday, saying that "in my personal view, I think I will go for therapeutic cloning." But he said: "Obviously, it's an issue for the member states to decide."
The governments of the United States, Costa Rica and dozens of European and Latin American countries that support a total ban argue that a partial ban would encourage the creation of a black market in human embryos.
Roberto Tovar, Costa Rica's minister of foreign affairs and worship, said that "cloning reduces the human being to a mere object of industrial production and manipulation." He added: "Today we must decide whether the international community will adopt a utilitarian ethic that justifies the deliberate creation of human embryos with the purpose of destroying them for scientific experiments."
Key European governments, including that of Britain, support a Belgian resolution calling for a partial ban on cloning that would permit scientific research pursuing cures for diseases. "If other countries decide they want to ban therapeutic cloning, then we respect that totally. All we are asking for is the same respect in return," said Emyr Jones Parry, Britain's ambassador to the United Nations. Parry said the other resolution "seeks to impose a single dogmatic and inflexible viewpoint on the rest of the world and overturn decisions which have been legitimately taken by other national governments."
Islamic countries, whose religion rejects the notion that life begins at conception, want more time to consider their position on the issue. Speaking on behalf of the 57-member Organization of the Islamic Conference, Turkey's representative, Gokcen Tugral, said the Islamic states are opposed to a vote on either resolution. "A vote on either of the draft resolutions by which one side would impose its views on the other would only create a negative atmosphere," she said.
The United States, Belgium and other countries have continued negotiations aimed at a compromise. On Thursday, South Korea proposed delaying any vote this year and convening an international scientific conference on cloning to increase delegates' understanding of the issue.
"The current divisions within [the General Assembly's legal] committee do not favor beginning serious negotiations on human cloning," said Shin Kak Soo, South Korea's representative in Thursday's debate.