The permissibility of therapeutic cloning will be the focus of a United Nations ethics panel later this month when it considers whether a non-binding General Assembly declaration calling on Member States to ban all forms of human cloning should be reassessed in light of scientific, ethical, social, political and legal advances.
In 2005 the Assembly declared all cloning incompatible with human dignity and protection of life, voting 84 in favour, 34 against, 37 abstaining and 36 absent, after a decade of work on reproductive cloning by the International Bioethics Committee (IBC) of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
Now the IBC will debate the issue anew at a two-day meeting at UNESCO headquarters in Paris beginning 28 October, noting that some people, mainly scientists, are urging a different approach to therapeutic cloning.
“Recent technological developments and new prospects for the use of stem cells in the therapy of human diseases have once again raised the issue of adequacy of international regulations governing this research,” an IBC working group set up at the request of UNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura said in a report in September.
The report noted that the main point of contention in the 2005 Declaration was the question of linking the issues of reproductive and non-reproductive cloning, which was not agreeable to many States who abstained or voted against.
The Group calls for human reproductive cloning to be banned at the international level by a legally binding convention, while guidelines for regulating human embryo and stem cell research in countries where it is legal should be developed at the international level.
An Observatory Group could be established to new ethical, legal, social, political and scientific developments, and UNESCO should develop specific strategies and materials to promote international discourse on this topic.
The other focus of this month’s meeting is the principle of social responsibility as set forth in the Universal Declaration of Bioethics and Human Rights of 2005, including article 14 which states that that “the promotion of health and social development for their people is a central purpose of governments that all sectors of society share.”
An IBC working group stressed that this implies that health should be one of the most important purposes of governments, while promoting health and social responsibility is an obligation shared by all societal actors, private and public.