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UN committee approves declaration on human cloning

BMJ 2005; 330 doi: (Published 03 March 2005) Cite this as: BMJ 2005;330:496
  1. Susan Mayor
  1. London

    A United Nations committee approved an international declaration on human cloning last week. A contentious vote ended three years of failure to reach a more binding agreement.

    The UN Declaration on Human Cloning calls for countries “to prohibit all forms of human cloning inasmuch as they are incompatible with human dignity and the protection of human life.” The sixth committee of the UN, which agrees legal issues, was divided on the declaration with 71 members in favour, 35 against, and 43 abstentions. The declaration will now be passed to the General Assembly for formal adoption.

    The declaration was developed after a three year debate in which the committee was unable to choose between two more tightly defined proposals for an international treaty on human cloning. The first proposal from Costa Rica, also supported by the United States, recommended a complete ban on both reproductive and therapeutic cloning. A second proposal from Belgium proposed banning reproductive cloning but allowing member countries to make their own decisions on therapeutic cloning (BMJ 2004;329: 1258, 27 Nov

    The declaration is a powerful but non-binding instrument that encourages, but does not require, countries to pass laws conforming to its position, written in language ambiguous enough to please both sides of the argument. The decision to adopt it remains highly controversial.

    Belgium, which had argued in favour of allowing therapeutic cloning, said it would not be bound by a text approved by such a narrow vote.

    Richard Gardner, chairman of the working group on stem cell research and cloning at the Royal Society, said that the declaration would have no effect on research into therapeutic cloning in the United Kingdom.

    The non-binding nature of the declaration also allows for reproductive cloning, however. Professor Gardner commented, “The voting of 71 to 35, with 43 abstentions, shows a divided UN and fails to send out a clear message to maverick scientists that reproductive cloning is unacceptable.”

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