A UN General Assembly committee yesterday resumed the debate from last year and appeared no closer to reaching consensus on the issue.
A draft convention introduced by Belgium seeks to ban reproductive cloning of human beings. It would allow states to decide whether to pursue cloning of human embryos for medical research but require strict controls to avoid reproductive cloning.
Supporters of the draft include major EU states, as well as Turkey, South Korea, Japan, Belarus, and the Baltic states.
A separate draft resolution introduced by Costa Rica says that all scientific research on cloned cells should be banned. It says cloning for any purpose is an attack on human dignity. That measure is sponsored by the United States, Australia, and Italy, among others.
British Ambassador Emyr Jones Parry said his government has decided to permit cloning for medical research because of significant potential health benefits, including for heart disease and diabetes. He urged against imposing a ban on countries like his that have decided to allow controlled research.
"What we cannot support is any attempt to ban or unreasonably restrict cloning for research purposes -- that is known as therapeutic cloning. We are convinced that therapeutic cloning holds enormous promise for new treatments for serious degenerative conditions that are currently incurable," Jones Parry said.
The Holy See, which has observer status at the UN, has been an influential opponent of a partial ban. Its UN envoy, Archbishop Celestino Migliore, told the General Assembly committee that any form of cloning involves disrespect for human beings.
"So-called therapeutic cloning -- creating human embryos with the intention of destroying them, even if undertaken with the goal of possibly helping sick patients in the future -- seems very clearly incompatible with respect for the dignity of the human being, making one human life nothing more than the instrument of another," Migliore said.
South Korea, which is a leading country in stem-cell research, has proposed a delay in drafting a treaty to provide more time for the education of UN members on the topic.
A South Korean envoy, Hahn Myung-jae, told the committee not to rush toward a convention on cloning and instead proposed an international scientific conference next year.
"The gaps between the two respective groups sponsoring [two opposing] resolutions are still so wide that a rush decision on these resolutions would scuttle our honest effort to work out a viable, enforceable, and effective international legal regime to regulate human cloning," Hahn said.
There appeared to be growing support for South Korea's proposal.
The Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) issued a statement urging states to continue work toward a consensus before voting on a draft.
Speaking on behalf of the OIC was UN representative Gokcen Tugrul of Turkey. She said a cloning convention should strive for as much support as possible among states.
"The OIC group supports the total banning of cloning of human beings. In the same way, we believe that there should be a consensus on how to deal with all forms of human cloning," Tugrul said.
Although officially supporting a total ban, the United States is undergoing a major domestic debate about the issue of stem-cell research. In the U.S. presidential race, Democratic challenger John Kerry is a strong supporter of embryonic stem-cell research.
President George W. Bush opposes government funding for any research involving the future destruction of human embryos. The Bush administration has confined the use of funding for research on stem-cell batches that existed as of August 2001.