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Annan backs stem cell studies, differs with Bush
Updated: 2004-10-22 00:43

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Thursday endorsed scientific studies that involve the cloning of human embryos, differing with the Bush administration's push for a treaty to ban such research.

Annan expressed his view as a U.N. committee opened two days of hearings on plans for the drafting of a global treaty on cloning amid signs of ebbing support for the U.S. stance.

All U.N. members basically agree on a pact that would ban the cloning of human beings, an idea first proposed in 2001.

But treaty writers have since been tied up in knots over a push by the United States and Costa Rica to expand the treaty to ban both the cloning of humans and the cloning of human embryos for stem cell or similar research, known as "therapeutic cloning."

"Obviously it is an issue for the member-states to decide, but as an individual and in my personal view, I think I would go for therapeutic cloning," Annan told reporters on his return to U.N. headquarters after several weeks of official travel.

The stem cell controversy has become an issue in the U.S. presidential election campaign, with President Bush opposing government funding for any research involving the future destruction of human embryos, and his Democratic opponent, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, backing the aggressive pursuit of embryonic stem cell studies.

U.S. opinion polls show strong public backing for stem cell research. The cause has been spotlighted by the recent death of paralyzed "Superman" actor Christopher Reeve, an ardent supporter.


Champions of a broad U.N. treaty banning all forms of cloning view therapeutic cloning as the taking of human life. Their draft resolution laying out instructions to treaty writers has 61 co-sponsors.

Advocates of the use of cloned human embryos for research, a group led by Belgium and 21 other nations, argue the technique holds out the hope of a cure for hundreds of millions of people with such diseases as Alzheimer's, cancer, diabetes and spinal cord damage.

Moroccan U.N. Ambassador Mohamed Bennouna, the committee chairman, told Reuters this week the issue was so emotional he hoped to avoid a vote this year by delaying action until 2005.

South Korea, a leader in stem cell research, has proposed that treaty drafting be delayed to allow time for a U.N. conference on the merits of embryonic stem cell studies, an idea proponents said was picking up support at the world body.

At Tuesday's hearing in the treaty-writing legal committee of the U.N. General Assembly, Costa Rica's minister of foreign affairs and worship, Roberto Tovar, said therapeutic cloning reduced humans "to a mere object of industrial production and manipulation."

"Human embryos cannot be treated as objects. There is no substantial difference between an embryo, a fetus, a child, an adolescent and an adult," Tovar said.

Belgian envoy Marc Pecsteen argued that adopting the text drafted by his government would enable the United Nations to move quickly to ban the cloning of a human being.

"Is our goal to arrive at a treaty that could make a difference? Or is it our goal only to stage a vote yielding a symbolic victory that would not lead to any concrete results?" he asked the committee, whose membership is identical to the 191-nation General Assembly's.

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