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BMJ. Oct 23, 2004; 329(7472): 938.
PMCID: PMC524099

UK body calls on UN to allow therapeutic cloning

The Royal Society, the United Kingdom's national academy of science, has called on the United Nations to pass a resolution that bans reproductive cloning but allows carefully regulated therapeutic cloning when a UN committee meets this week to debate the issue.

The sixth committee of the United Nations, which agrees legal issues, met this week, after the BMJ went to press to consider two proposals on human cloning.

The first proposal, from Costa Rica, also supported by the United States, will recommend a complete ban on both reproductive and therapeutic cloning. A second proposal, from Belgium, is suggesting a ban on reproductive cloning but would allow UN member countries to make their own decisions on therapeutic cloning. The committee will vote on which of the two proposals should be adopted by the United Nations, and it will then apply to all member countries.

The US president, George Bush, told the United Nations in a speech last month that member countries should support the Costa Rican proposal to ban both reproductive and therapeutic cloning. In contrast, the Royal Society is recommending support for the Belgian proposal, which would allow therapeutic cloning.

Lord May of Oxford, president of the Royal Society, said: "The United States should be allowed to decide whether therapeutic cloning should be outlawed within its borders. But other countries, including the UK, have now passed legislation to allow carefully regulated therapeutic cloning while introducing a ban on reproductive cloning. Consequently there is no way that these countries can sign up to the complete ban that President Bush has advocated. Many other countries have also indicated that they would not sign up to such a convention."

In addition to the United Kingdom, China, South Korea, and Japan all have legislation allowing carefully regulated therapeutic cloning so would be unable to sign up to legislation banning all forms of cloning.

If the United Nations could not reach a workable resolution there was a risk that maverick scientists could try reproductive cloning in countries that had not passed laws against it, Lord May warned.

"If the Belgian proposal was successful, the United States and others would still be free to ban all human cloning but countries that see the promise offered by therapeutic cloning can still carry out research," Lord May suggested.

The Royal Society fears that an important research issue could be decided on the basis of political, rather than scientific or ethical, grounds. Lord May commented: "The US government's approach at the UN appears more designed to influence domestic legislation, where attempts to introduce a total ban have so far failed, at the expense of a workable international ban on reproductive cloning."

The president of the US Academy of Sciences wrote earlier this month to Colin Powell, US secretary of state, recommending that the United States should support the Belgian proposal because of the potential of therapeutic cloning. Surveys of the US public have also shown that most people support stem cell research.

The UN committee meeting follows a vote last year to delay a decision on cloning for a year, despite powerful lobbying at the time by the United States.


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