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United Nations, facing vote on human cloning, keeps tabs on Bush-Kerry race

WASHINGTON (BP)–The United Nations awaits a major vote on human cloning, as well as the result of a United States presidential election that could affect the outcome.

The U.N.’s legal committee recently debated two conflicting proposals on cloning. A Costa Rican resolution, which is co-sponsored by the United States and about 60 other countries, would prohibit cloning for purposes of both reproduction and research. A measure sponsored by Belgium and about 20 other countries would ban only reproductive cloning, thereby permitting the production of clones who would be destroyed when stem cells are extracted for research.

The U.N. committee, which consists of representatives from all 191 members of the General Assembly, debated the proposals Oct. 21 and 22, but at least some of its members welcomed the opportunity to wait until as late as Nov. 10 to vote.

“The delegates were interested in seeing the outcome of our election,” Family Research Council senior fellow David Prentice told Baptist Press. “They know if [President] Bush is re-elected, he’s got a strong stand against all human cloning. If that is the case, we know we can go ahead. We will have the U.S. support for a total ban.

“I think if Bush is re-elected, it’s pretty much a shoo-in in terms of having at least 100 votes, if not more,” for the comprehensive ban, said Prentice, who lobbied U.N. delegations seeking their support for such a prohibition.

The ban requires only a majority from the 191 delegations for passage.

Bush not only has supported a comprehensive cloning ban in Congress, but he has urged the U.N. to act in similar fashion. In a September speech to the General Assembly, the president urged members to vote for the Costa Rican proposal and thereby endorse a “basic ethical principle: No human life should ever be produced or destroyed for the benefit of another.”

Sen. John Kerry, the Democratic nominee from Massachusetts, co-sponsored in the Senate this year a bill that would permit embryos to be cloned but require they be destroyed early in their development. That measure, the Human Cloning Ban and Stem Cell Research Protection Act, S. 303, would prohibit a clone from developing 14 days beyond its first cell division.

When the U.N. committee vote occurs, Prentice is optimistic Costa Rica and its allies “will be able to pass it.” While the committee is seeking consensus, he said it is improbable: “That dog just won’t hunt on this issue.” He said his main concern is a procedural move that would delay a vote, which has happened before and would be welcomed by many countries.

“The general sentiment globally is against cloning,” Prentice said, citing comprehensive bans in France, Germany, Canada and Australia.

Among the countries promoting Belgium’s ban only on reproductive cloning are Great Britain, India, Japan and South Korea, according to The Washington Post. U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan also has expressed his support for research cloning.

Those countries’ partial ban “doesn’t ban anything,” Prentice said. “They claim it would ban reproductive cloning, but if you’ve got thousands of cloned human embryos, you are allowing people to practice [the procedure] so that people will be able to implant” an embryo and bring the unborn child to birth, he said.

“Just trying to stop somebody from putting one of these in a womb — there’s no way you can do it,” Prentice said. “You’re just giving them free rein.”

Britain, which recently began allowing research cloning, and other allies of Belgium argue Costa Rica, the United States and their allies desire to impose their position on all governments. “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 U.N.

Bioethicist C. Ben Mitchell said the United States “is not the obstacle in the debate. Those who want to clone human embryos only to kill them for research purposes are guilty for the impasse.”

“The Costa Rican resolution is the morally superior way ahead,” said Mitchell, an associate bioethics professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in suburban Chicago, Ill., and a consultant for the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “A comprehensive ban on cloning human embryos for both research and reproduction is the only sane approach.”

Stem cells are the body’s master cells that can develop into other cells and tissues. They are found not only in human embryos but also in adult sources, such as bone marrow, umbilical cord blood and placentas. The procurement of stem cells from an adult source does not harm the donor.

In addition to its destructive character, embryonic stem cell research has experienced multiple failures, including the worsening of Parkinson’s symptoms in one human test group and a tendency to produce tumors in laboratory animals. Adult stem cell research, meanwhile, has already produced more than 40 treatments, including the repair of damaged livers and remedies for heart disease, diabetes, multiple sclerosis and spinal cord injuries.