Feb 26, 2002
By Irwin Arieff
UNITED NATIONS - Spurred on by rapid biotechnological advances, a UN committee on Monday launched an initial round of talks aimed at drafting an international treaty to ban the cloning of human beings.
The United Nations set up the special panel last year, at the request of France and Germany, after Italian fertility specialist Severino Antinori announced his intention to become the first scientist to clone a human being.
Numerous firms have since boasted of rapid progress in research into the mechanics of cloning a variety of animals as well as humans, their organs and cells.
Just this month, the first cat was cloned in what scientists described as a way to blend research with people's sentimentality about their pets.
But the idea of fashioning human clones in a laboratory continues to generate outrage around the world and across the political spectrum, despite the promised benefits of some avenues of research.
"Once this technological genie is out of the bottle, trying to control it will be extremely difficult," said Health Law Professor George Annas of the Boston University School of Public Health.
"Governments urgently need to agree upon international policies to ban human reproductive cloning and other technologies of genetic manipulation that could undermine society and our common humanity," Annas said in a printed statement.
Annas was one of several scientific experts and human rights activists due to address a news conference at UN headquarters on Tuesday on the need for strong international controls on cloning practices.
The treaty drafting process is expected to take years, and all 189 UN member-nations are free to participate in the special committee's deliberations.
The panel has so far scheduled only an initial week of meetings, intended to explore various approaches to the drafting of a global accord, and a second week of negotiations beginning Sept. 23.
During Monday's session, Syrian envoy Mohamed Haj Ibrahim and Iraqi diplomat Abdul Munim Al-Kadhe questioned why no Arab experts had been named to advise the panel while an Israeli expert, Dr. Carmel Shalev, had been asked to speak about the human rights aspects of cloning.
UN staffer Vaclav Mikulka said experts had been selected on the basis of recommendations from the World Health Organization and the UN Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization and did not represent individual nations.
Shalev is a member of UN Committee
on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and directs
the ethics unit at Israel's Gertner Institute for Health Policy Research.
Copyright © 2002 Reuters Limited