US cloning ban collapses

A US-led campaign to ban cloning of human embryos, including for stem cell research, has crumbled after a divided United Nations prepared to abandon the initiative.

    The late actor Christopher Reeve supported stem cell research

    "The bottom line is that stem cell research will advance. This declaration will not chill stem cell research," Florida solicitor Bernard Siegel said on Friday.

    Siegel led a lobbying drive by scientists and patient-advocacy groups to defend cloning for therapeutic ends.

    In an agreement reached late on Thursday, backers and foes of the three-year drive by the Bush administration agreed to ask the UN General Assembly's treaty-writing legal committee to drop its consideration of a treaty on the issue.

    Opponents of the US plan said the agreement showed that a majority of the 191 UN member-nations wanted to keep the door open to therapeutic cloning, in which human embryos are cloned as part of research such as stem cell studies.

    Support for research

    Friday's committee action fell a little over two weeks after US elections in which stem cell research was an issue.

    "The bottom line is that stem cell research will advance. This declaration will not chill stem cell research"

    Bernard Siegel,
    Florida solicitor

    Opinion polls showed strong support for such studies, and the US Congress has so far shunned President George Bush's pleas for a tough law that bans therapeutic cloning.

    But Bush has on his own restricted the use of federal money for stem cell research, allowing US funding only for studies on embryonic stem cell batches that existed as of August 2001.

    France and Germany first proposed a UN treaty banning human cloning in 2001, but the issue has been bottled up ever since over whether a treaty should also ban the cloning of human embryos, as Washington insisted.

    The US says this is the taking of human life.

    Hope for cure

    But many nations fought to exclude therapeutic cloning from the ban. Scientists say the technique holds out the hope of a cure for an estimated 100 million people with conditions such as Alzheimer's disease, cancer, diabetes and spinal cord injury.

    Under the agreement reached on Thursday, the legal committee was poised to adopt a resolution instructing a working group to meet in February for talks on a political declaration proposed by Italy as a face-saving compromise.

    Rome proposed the assembly issue a non-binding statement calling on nations to adopt laws "to prohibit any attempts to create human life through cloning processes and any research intended to achieve that aim".

    While proponents of embryonic stem cell studies had problems with the term "human life", they agreed the text could form the basis of future negotiations, diplomats said.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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