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Plans for a United Nations ban on human cloning have been put on hold for at least a year following major disagreements about whether or not such a ban should extend to therapeutic cloning, in which human embryos are cloned for medical research.

France and Germany originally proposed a ban last year in response to Italian fertility doctor Severino Antinori's announcement that he intended to clone a human baby. They limited their proposal to human reproductive cloning on the grounds that there was general consensus that this should be outlawed.

They also suggested that, once an initial ban had been put in place for reproductive cloning, discussions should move to the more controversial area of therapeutic cloning.

But a group of more than 30 countries, led by the United States, Spain and the Philippines refused to support any ban unless it included therapeutic cloning. They argued that therapeutic cloning is unethical, and that it would be difficult to enforce a ban on reproductive cloning alone if therapeutic cloning in laboratories was permitted.

It would also send the 'wrong signal' by implicitly authorising the creation and destruction of human embryos for experimentation, they said.

Countries had been expected to vote on the two proposals this week. But when it became clear that there was no solution to the deadlock, envoys from France, Germany, the United States, Spain and the Philippines agreed to end the dispute by postponing for a year.

The delay has been widely interpreted as a victory for the United States. Reuters reported a US official as saying "We very strongly feel that no decision is better than a bad decision."

Indeed, some observers are suggesting that the United States has been tactically manoeuvring the discussions into a deadlock so as to appease both its religious right and US industries that are already researching therapeutic cloning.

But German envoy Christian Much, told Reuters that the issue was far from closed. "This does not mean the United Nations is condoning cloning or closing its eyes on the matter," he said. "We will spend the time looking for ways to move forward."

© SciDev.Net 2002

Report of the Ad Hoc Committee on an International Convention against the Reproductive Cloning of Human Beings, 25 February &150; 1 March 2002PDF document

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