The United Nations (UN) dropped plans to draft an international treaty banning human cloning on Friday (19 November). Instead, member states will meet to agree on a declaration — a much weaker legal text — next February.
The declaration would simply encourage member states to pass national laws on cloning that match its recommendations.
For more than one year, the UN has been debating whether or not to adopt an international treaty banning cloning (see UN delays vote on cloning ban — again).
"There is such division in the international community that any treaty would not make it, so the idea of the declaration is to find some general language that we could all live with," says Marc Pecsteen, a Belgian diplomat involved in the UN talks.
While there is near-unanimous support for a ban on reproductive cloning – the creation of individuals through cloning – nations are divided on the matter of therapeutic cloning, which uses the techniques of cloning to further medical research without creating new individuals.
The UN legal committee has been struggling over two proposed treaties, one from Costa Rica backing a total ban on cloning, and one from Belgium supporting a ban on reproductive but not therapeutic cloning.
The Costa Rican proposal was backed by 62 nations, including the United States. The Belgian proposal was backed by 22 countries.
On Friday, Italy proposed a declaration that, if adopted, would call on member states to adopt laws prohibiting attempts to create human life through cloning, as well as genetic engineering techniques "contrary to human dignity".
According to the Associated Press news agency, "a key factor in [last week's] agreement was the attitude of Islamic countries", which are "deeply divided" on this matter.