UN University Calls for Reopening Contentious Debate on Human Cloning

A recently released report from the United Nations University (UNU) in Tokyo has called for a reopening of the contentious UN cloning debates which was settled in 2005. The authors of the study urge the international community to pass a legally binding ban on so-called "reproductive cloning" only, warning there are "grave concerns regarding the possibility of a cloned human being coming into existence in parts of the world where this is not a prohibited procedure."   

The problem then as now is how to define human cloning. Some want to say there are two types of human cloning; "therapeutic cloning" where the cloned embryo is experimented upon and killed, and "reproductive cloning" where the cloned embryo would be allowed to fully grow. In fact, there is only one type of human cloning, that which clones a human embryo. What happens afterwards is what is up for debate. Almost everyone wants to ban so-called "reproductive cloning" but some want to allow "therapeutic cloning" what some call "clone and kill."

This debate first came about in 2002 when France and Germany initiated talks for a binding international treaty that would have allowed medical experimentation on human embryos and mandate their death. This debate lasted for three years in the UN General Assembly and ended with a non-binding political declaration that banned human cloning for any purpose, both "therapeutic" and "reproductive."
The UNU tries to reopen the debate by arguing there is something approaching customary international law supporting a ban on reproductive cloning, though this is a highly questionable argument since there is nothing close to uniformity in law on this question.  The UNU reports goes on to argue that the current challenge for the international community is "to find a compromise position" with an "increased respect for ethical diversity." The report presents several possible options for international action: a total ban on all cloning research, a moratorium on all cloning research, or a ban on reproductive cloning only.  The intention of UNU as made clear upon release of the report. UNU Director A.H. Zakri, said, "A legally-binding global ban on work to create a human clone, coupled with freedom for nations to permit strictly controlled therapeutic research, has the greatest political viability of options available."

The study acknowledges that any renewed UN negotiations on a binding legal instrument on human cloning will be met with the same deeply-entrenched opposing political and ethical views as when the topic was first introduced in 2002. In a recent article detailing the two opposing sides of that debate, frequent negotiator for the Holy See Robert Araujo, SJ, said that in future debates the pro-cloning side may well liken conservative opposition to the Church's censure of Galileo, who, even when recanting said, "the earth still moves." Araujo said, "science also acknowledges that the embryo, regardless of its origin (through…cloning), still lives."

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