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Cloning ban proponents see shifts at U.N. & in Congress

WASHINGTON (BP)–United States support for a comprehensive ban on human cloning has helped produce a delay in United Nations action on the issue, while proponents of a total ban in this country hope for success next year in a new political climate.

The U.N. General Assembly affirmed a decision by one of its committees to postpone work on a treaty against cloning, according to the Associated Press. The Nov. 19 vote by the General Assembly means the issue will not be dealt with by a working group until October, AP reported.

Disagreement on the nature of a cloning ban produced the postponement. France and Germany proposed a measure that would prohibit only cloning to reproduce a child, but the United States and 36 other countries balked at the proposal, The New York Times reported.

The United States and its allies support a ban on cloning for research purposes as well as for reproduction. Among those who joined the United States in opposition to the French-German proposal were Spain, the Philippines and the Vatican, according to news reports.

Support for a ban on research cloning is primarily based on its effect on the human embryo’s life. Scientists clone embryos in order to obtain stem cells for research into cures for various diseases. Such research requires the destruction of the embryos.

“We believe that the growing support for a total ban signals that a course correction is underway and that the trend toward a total ban will forge a clear path toward a convention to prohibit all cloning of human embryos,” U.S. representative Ralph Martinez told the General Assembly, AP reported.

Germany and France issued a statement saying, according to AP, they “are ready to further engage in broad-based, substantial negotiations, and we hope others are too, with a clear sense of urgency and with a non-dogmatic view on what is feasible in short term and what is not.”

The French-German statement was delivered Nov. 7 after the General Assembly’s legal committee decided to delay consideration of a cloning ban.

A German diplomat, who asked to remain anonymous, said Nov. 19 the U.N. decision “should not be misinterpreted by those scientists or others going for cloning of babies … as a green light to go ahead,” AP reported.

While the Bush administration is promoting a comprehensive ban internationally, the president also has pushed for such a measure in the United States. In April, Bush called for the Senate to adopt a total ban already approved by the House of Representatives. The House passed a comprehensive prohibition by more than 100 votes in 2001. The Senate, however, never voted on a cloning ban.

After the Nov. 5 election returned Republicans to the majority in the Senate, backers of a total ban are hopeful. Sen. Sam Brownback, R.-Kan., chief sponsor of a comprehensive ban, is expected to reintroduce the measure with additional support.

“Obviously, the elections favor those who oppose human cloning, and we plan action early next year,” a Brownback spokesman told The Financial Times.

In June, Brownback rejected the plans of Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D.-S.D., for debate and votes on cloning legislation. After Daschle had previously delayed at least two votes, Brownback decided the plan unjustly placed his bill at a disadvantage.

All other Senate measures permitted research cloning while barring reproductive cloning.

Proponents of research cloning say it must be protected in order to permit experiments on embryonic stem cells, the body’s primitive cells that have shown the ability to develop into cells and tissues to use as replacements in treating a variety of conditions, including Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease and diabetes. Research on embryonic stem cells already is being conducted without the use of cloned embryos.

Adult stem cells also have shown such capability and have been used already as successful treatments. Procuring stem cells from adult sources does not harm or destroy a human being. Critics of research cloning charge that the hope embryonic stem cells supposedly provide is only speculative.

At its 2001 meeting, the Southern Baptist Convention passed without opposition a resolution condemning both research and reproductive cloning.

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