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UN approves human cloning ban

Purely symbolic victory

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The UN general assembly yesterday voted 84 to 34 in favour of a nonbinding statement calling for a total ban on human cloning. There were 37 abstentions, Reuters reports.

The result will please the US which backed the Honduras-proposed measure, recently approved by a UN committee after much bitter debate which saw the UK slam the "political" result and further declare that it would continue with theraputic cloning regardless of the outcome of the general assembly ballot.

Therpautic cloning - the practice of using human embryos to obtain stem cells, the embryos then being discarded - is at the centre of the rumpus. Advocates argue that the process is essential for research into diseases such as Motor Neuron and Parkinson's disease. Opponents say that it involves taking a human life.

US president George Bush - a high-profile opponent of cloning and stem cell research - said: "The United States and the international community have now spoken clearly that human cloning is an affront to human dignity."

Costa Rican ambassador Bruno Stagno Ugarte agreed, describing the vote as "a historic step" recognising that "therapeutic cloning involves the creation of human life for the purpose of destroying it".

British ambassador Emyr Jones Parry, on the other hand, condemned "the intransigence of those who were not prepared to recognize that other sovereign states - after extensive dialogue and due democratic process - may decide to permit strictly controlled applications of therapeutic cloning."

Indeed, Britain has already said that it will continue with theraputic cloning regardless. UK health secretary John Reid yesterday said that the UN declaration is "non-binding and will make no difference whatsoever to the position of stem cell research in the UK: therapeutic cloning will continue to be allowed. The UK remains 'open for business' in stem cell research."

Addressing the issue of using cloning to create new humans - the highly-charged issue of "reproductive cloning", which many fear will be the eventual outcome of cloning research - Reid added: "Reproductive cloning is already illegal in the UK. Anyone attempting it in this country faces a 10-year prison sentence and unlimited fine."

Such assurances will not, however, impress those who are determined to see all human cloning, for whatever purpose, banned - even if their UN victory appears to be purely symbolic. ®

How they voted:

For: Afghanistan, Albania, Andorra, Australia, Austria, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belize, Benin, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brunei Darussalam, Burundi, Chile, Comoros, Costa Rica, Côte d’Ivoire, Croatia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Djibouti, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Georgia, Germany, Grenada, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Hungary, Iraq, Ireland, Italy, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kuwait, Lesotho, Liberia, Liechtenstein, Madagascar, Malta, Marshall Islands, Mauritius, Mexico, Federated States of Micronesia, Monaco, Morocco, Nicaragua, Palau, Panama, Paraguay, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Rwanda, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Samoa, San Marino, Sao Tome and Principe, Saudi Arabia, Sierra Leone, Slovakia, Slovenia, Solomon Islands, Sudan, Suriname, Switzerland, Tajikistan, The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Timor-Leste, Trinidad and Tobago, Uganda, United Arab Emirates, United Republic of Tanzania, United States, Uzbekistan, Zambia.

Against: Belarus, Belgium, Brazil, Bulgaria, Cambodia, Canada, China, Cuba, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Gabon, Iceland, India, Jamaica, Japan, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Republic of Korea, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, Thailand, Tonga, United Kingdom.

Abstained: Algeria, Angola, Argentina, Azerbaijan, Bahamas, Barbados, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Colombia, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Malaysia, Maldives, Mongolia, Myanmar, Namibia, Nepal, Oman, Pakistan, Republic of Moldova, Romania, Serbia and Montenegro, Somalia, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Syria, Tunisia, Turkey, Ukraine, Uruguay, Yemen, Zimbabwe.

Countries not listed were absent from vote.

Related links

UN statement on vote here.

Related stories

Britain talks tough on stem cell research
UN committee backs human cloning ban
Congress seeks stem cell side-step

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