Will the UN revisit cloning?

Posted by Jesse Reynolds October 29, 2008
Biopolitical Times

An ethics panel affiliated with the United Nations is currently examining whether the UN's nonbinding statement against human cloning [PDF] remains adequate. Today is the second part of a two-day meeting in Paris of the International Bioethics Committee (IBC) of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). As in most debates around human cloning, what's at stake is what to do with cloning-based stem cell research (a.k.a. therapeutic cloning or SCNT) while trying to prohibit reproductive cloning.

Back in 2002, France and Germany launched an effort towards an international prohibition against reproductive cloning. Even though both nations ban cloning-based stem cell research domestically, their proposal remained silent on that practice in order to garner broad support. Within a couple years, however, the process reached stalemate due to the intervention of the United States, whose conservative Bush administration countered with a ban on all cloning. An unsatisfying and vague nonbinding compromise was passed in 2005, that called on nations "to prohibit all forms of human cloning inasmuch as they are incompatible with human dignity and the protection of human life." This statement, which passed with only a plurality, could be interpreted as either endorsing or rejecting cloning-based stem cell research.

In subsequent years, two key circumstances have changed. First, new methods of cellular reprogramming are quickly achieving the goals of cloning-based stem cell research, which itself has seen little progress. Second, a new US presidential administration will take office in January, with the safe bet on Barack Obama. His position on cloning-based stem cell research remains unstated, but his desire for greater international cooperation is clear.

How are these changes playing out in Paris? According to a press release, the IBC is leaning towards a binding international prohibition on reproductive cloning, and a requirement for consistent and effective regulation of cloning-based stem cell research where it is permitted. If such an agreement can be achieved, it would be a welcome development.

Previously on Biopolitical Times: