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UN still at odds on human cloning
Updated: 2005-02-20 10:52

After four years of bitter debate, a United Nations committee voted to ban all forms of human cloning -- a ruling that many member states immediately vowed to ignore.

Many had hoped the political and ethical struggle over human cloning would lead to an acceptance of medical research with human embryos, which could advance the fight against debilitating diseases such as Alzheimer's.

But the non-binding vote by the committee will now be referred to the UN's General Assembly amid sharp international disagreement over the meaning of human life and what is ethical in the name of medical research.

A deeply divided UN legal committee adopted a non-binding resolution calling on world governments to ban all forms of cloning, despite widespread support for cloning of embryos for medical research.

The administration of US President George W. Bush had strongly backed the ban, arguing that the destruction of human life involved -- embryos are destroyed after providing the raw genetic material -- is immoral.

Many scientists say cloning research could unlock the secrets of hundreds of debilitating diseases including Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and spinal cord injuries.

Critics of the ban say that the entire world is opposed to cloning aimed at reproducing individual humans, and that US-led opposition to all forms of cloning has simply made it easier to flout such principles.

Belgium, which wanted to see the restrictions eased in hopes of paving the way for cloning research, vowed to snub the UN ruling, as did Britain.

"This is a weak, non-binding political statement. The number of states that failed to support it is greater than the number that backed it," British UN ambassador Emyr Jones Parry said in a statement.

"We have lost the opportunity for an international ban on the abhorrent prospect of reproductive cloning because of the intransigence of states whose action serves only to hold back medical research," he said.

Britain also said it would keep up therapeutic cloning, "which will continue to be permitted in the United Kingdom."

But a coalition of US groups hailed the decision. "This declaration represents a significant step forward in advancing respect for human life," the group said.

"Cloning opponents welcomed the UN's resolution and look forward to member states fulfilling their international obligations," it said.

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