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Experts on genetics and bioethics from across the globe met yesterday in New York to help United Nations delegates draft an international treaty to outlaw human cloning for reproductive purposes.

The meeting — which ends 1 March — is the first session of a UN committee set up last November at the request of France and Germany after Italian fertility doctor Severino Antinori announced his intention to become the first scientist to clone a human being.

“The possibility of human reproductive cloning poses dire consequences for humanity,” said the committee’s chairman, Peter Tomka of Slovakia. “The time has come for the international community to consider the feasibility of an international agreement providing a coordinated response to such medical and scientific advances.”

The global debate on the ethics of human cloning has been fired recently by the US company Advanced Cell Technology’s announcement last year that it has created the first cloned human embryo, and reports this month that researchers at Texas A & M University have cloned a cat.

“Reproductive cloning offers a test case for considering the extent to which public control of biotechnology is possible, desirable and economical,” Leonardo de Castro of the University of the Philippines said in yesterday’s discussions.

But he also warned that regulation must be implemented at the global level: “If nations fail to harmonise their responses to emerging science and technology, the world might find itself having to deal with cloning havens in the same way that the global economic community has to deal with tax havens.”

All 189 UN member nations can take part in the committee’s negotiations, which will continue during another week-long session starting 23 September.

But at yesterday’s meeting, Syrian envoy Mohamed Haj Ibrahim and Iraqi diplomat Abdul Munim Al-Kadhe questioned the absence of Arab and Islamic experts on the genetics and bioethics panel.

Vaclav Mikulka of the UN Office of Legal Affairs, said that experts did not represent particular nations and had been selected following recommendations from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) and the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The proposed convention — which is expected to take years to draft — focusses on human cloning for reproductive purposes. But some nations hope to expand its scope to include banning therapeutic cloning — the creation of cloned embryos solely to obtain stem cells to treat a variety of diseases.

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