The United Nations General Assembly voted on November 6th in favour of delaying consideration of an international convention on human cloning. The motion, put forward by Iran on behalf of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, passed by just one vote, 80 in favour to 79 against, with 15 abstentions.
The UN had been sharply divided over alternative proposals to deal with human cloning. A proposal put forward by Costa Rica, with strong support from the United States, called for a convention to ban all forms of human cloning for any purpose, including cloning for research.
This proposal was co-sponsored by 66 nations and, according to US diplomats, would have passed with at least 100 votes in favour if the motion to delay had not been taken first.
The alternative proposal put forward by Belgium and supported by the United Kingdom, China and Russia and about 20 other countries would only have banned human cloning aimed at producing a live born baby.
It would have allowed those countries which wish to pursue cloning of human embryos for research to do so.
Despite their own national legislation banning all human cloning this proposal was supported by France, Germany and, initially, Australia.
Australia’s support was expressed in speeches given at the United Nations Legal Committee by Professor Alan Pettigrew, CEO of the National Health and Medical Research Council and by Michael Bliss, First Secretary of the Australian Mission to the United Nations.
Both speeches strongly suggested that Australia’s support for the Belgian proposal and opposition to a comprehensive ban were designed to leave the door open to a new push to allow cloning under Australian legislation after the review of the Prohibition of Human Cloning Act 2002 which is due to be completed by December 2005. (See News Weekly, November 15, 2003: Backdoor bid to approve therapeutic cloning).
Several Australian MPs and Senators, including Alan Cadman, Ron Boswell and Brian Harradine strongly queried the line being taken by Australia’s representatives and asked who was responsible for briefing them.
Their questions appear to have resulted in a change in the direction given to the Australian delegation as Australia voted with Costa Rica and the United States against the motion to delay, deserting the Belgian/United Kingdom camp who all voted for the delay.
Observers pointed to the hypocrisy of this group who had been pushing the line that action on a cloning ban was urgent to stop renegade scientists attempting human cloning of live born babies, and that such a ban should therefore be limited to achieve maximum support for an early ban.
Their vote for a delay was seen as a tactical move to avoid a decisive vote which would have resulted in the Costa Rican proposal succeeding.
The Nigerian representative said he voted against the motion because he had always supported a total ban.
“Developing countries would be the source of the millions of embryos needed for scientific experimentation with clones. The resources for that effort were better turned to development purposes.
“The issue was sensitive morally and otherwise, and should not be treated lightly. Consensus was vital. Last year the question had been deferred for one year.
“What was magical about deferring it for two years now? Would the question be deferred for four years then?”
The United Nations will now not consider a cloning convention until the 60th General Assembly in 2005. In the meantime opponents of human cloning will continue to gather support for a comprehensive ban with lobbying attention to focus on expanding support from Islamic nations and working to get countries such as France, Germany and Australia to take a position reflecting their own legislative bans on all human cloning.
- Richard Egan