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Annan lines up against US-inspired human cloning ban

Balance at UN tilts in favour of therapeutic?

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UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan endorsed therapeutic cloning on Thursday, adding his weight to the UN member countries opposing the US-led campaign to ban all human cloning.

A treaty which would ban the cloning of human being has been in the works since 2001, but arguments over extending this to include therapeutic cloning have stalled it. Therapeutic cloning involves harvesting stem cells (cells that have yet to differentiate into a specific type of cell) from human embryos, for use in research into diseases and injuries, and is supported numerous countries, including the UK.

Therapeutic cloning is legal in the United Kingdom, but "very carefully regulated," as a spokeswoman for the Bioindustry Association (BIA) put it. Kofi Annan's endorsement was described as "very welcome," but she said it was not possible to predict the outcome of the ongoing debate. She added that the UK is against the banning of therapeutic cloning.

The UN currently faces a proposal sponsored by the US, Costa Rica and over 50 other nations banning all human cloning, and this is opposed by proposal endorsing therapeutic cloning from a group consisting of Belgium and 21 other nations.

The issue of a total ban on cloning has become heated in the run-up to the US presidential elections, particularly since the death of Christopher Reeve, who played Superman and advocated therapeutic cloning and stem cell research. His widow, Dana Reeve, on Thursday endorsed John Kerry's campaign for the presidency.

US President George Bush opposes government funding for any research involving the future destruction of human embryos, while John Kerry, the Democratic Party candidate, advocates the pursuit of embryonic stem cell studies.

Bush has restricted the allocation of federal funds to embryonic stem cell batches that existed as of August 2001, but these batches are not appropriate for human therapeutic cloning for several reasons. For the most part they are quite old and so their quality has declined. Some also contain mouse cells as well as human cells.

A date for a vote on the proposed ban has yet to be fixed. ®

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