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United Nations OKs nonbinding call for total cloning ban

WASHINGTON (BP)–The United Nations General Assembly passed a nonbinding resolution March 8 calling on its members to enact comprehensive bans on human cloning.

The 191-member assembly voted 84-34 for the declaration, with 37 abstentions. The measure calls on countries to “prohibit all forms of human cloning inasmuch as they are incompatible with human dignity and the protection of human life,” thereby impacting cloning for both reproductive and research purposes.

The declaration fell short of the convention supported by the United States and more than 60 allies that would have mandated a ban on both reproductive and research cloning.

Though U.N. members agree on barring the birth of a clone, some countries oppose a ban on research cloning. Proponents of research cloning defend its legalization primarily for the purpose of performing stem cell research. Extracting embryonic stem cells for such research destroys the embryo, however.

While the declaration fell short of their goals, President Bush and pro-life leaders still applauded the U.N. action.

“Human life must not be created for the purpose of destroying it,” Bush said in a written statement. “The United States and the international community have now spoken clearly that human cloning is an affront to human dignity and that we must work together to protect human life.”

Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said the vote was a significant move toward “raising the awareness of the conscience of the world that this is a dangerous scientific practice that must face worldwide condemnation.”

Jeanne Head, U.N. representative for the National Right to Life Committee, called it an important step in “recognizing the dignity of all members of our human family and protecting all human life. Cloning and killing living human embryos to obtain their stem cells for experimentation is unethical and unnecessary.”

Great Britain, China, India, Belgium and South Korea were among countries opposing the declaration. Their representatives said the resolution would not affect their governments’ policies on stem cell research and experimental cloning.

A leading advocacy organization for destructive embryonic research called the resolution “a toothless attempt to ban all forms of human cloning.” Daniel Perry, president of the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research, said countries “will continue to pursue therapeutic cloning research.”

In addition to the United States, other supporters of the declaration included Australia, Chile, Germany, Italy, Mexico and Sudan.

Eighteen of the 37 countries that abstained are members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference.

Thirty-six assembly members were absent for the vote.

The U.N. had been embroiled in a three-year battle over a cloning ban, with Costa Rica leading a pro-comprehensive ban contingent that outnumbered its foes by three to one. In November, however, the U.N. legal committee agreed to consider a nonbinding resolution after the impasse on a binding treaty could not be overcome. The legal committee voted 71-35, with 43 abstentions, for the declaration in February.

The declaration calls for countries to restrict genetic engineering methods that may conflict with human dignity and to protect women from exploitation. Some supporters of the resolution expressed concern women in underdeveloped countries would be targets for the procurement of eggs to use in research cloning.

In his statement, Bush also reiterated his support for a comprehensive cloning ban in the United States. The House of Representatives has approved such a ban in the past, but the Senate has failed to do so.

Opponents of embryonic stem cell research contend it not only destroys human life but also has failed miserably in contrast to the success of treatments using non-embryonic stem cells. Stem cells from such non-embryonic sources as bone marrow, umbilical cord blood, fat and placentas have provided successful treatment of more than 40 ailments, including spinal cord injuries, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, multiple sclerosis and Crohn’s disease.

Stem cells are the body’s master cells that can develop into other cells and tissues, building hope for the treatment of numerous afflictions.