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A collection of 125 scientist and patient groups is asking the UN to reject calls for a worldwide ban on stem cell research from the Bush administration and 50 other countries.

The UN General Assembly is due to debate the issue from 21 October. All 191 member countries support a ban on cloning of human beings but cannot agree on whether cloning of human embryos for stem cell research should be allowed. Stem cells can create any other cell in the body. Supporters believe the research holds potential cures for many diseases like cancer and Alzheimer's as well as helping people with spinal injuries. Superman actor Christopher Reeve, who died on Sunday, was a keen lobbyist for the technology.

The argument has become a big issue in the US election: George Bush is opposed to any government funded research while his opponent John Kerry is calling for a lifting of restrictions which he described as "ideologically-driven".

The US proposal is that the UN bans all cloning which it describes as "unethical, morally reproachable and contrary to due respect for the human person". The proposal is backed by 57 other countries, which Reuters cattily describes as "predominantly Catholic, small island states or poverty-stricken developing nations".

An alternative measure, backed by Belgium and 21 other countries active in research, calls for a ban on cloning of human beings but allow individual governments to make their own decisions on stem cell research.

A spokeswoman for the BioIndustry Association, which represents UK bioscience companies, told El Reg: "We fully support a worldwide ban on human reproductive cloning but we don't think this should be extended to therapeutic cloning. Individual countries need to debate the issues and put proper regulation in place if they do decide to go ahead."

There is more detail in the Reuters story here ®

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