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UN Fails to Reach Agreement on Cloning

The United States and Britain have clashed at the United Nation over the issue of human cloning. The United States is among countries calling for a worldwide cloning ban, while Britain has vowed to reject it.

Two days of debate in a U.N. conference hall showed how divisive the cloning issue is. When it was over, delegates put off a decision for at least a few more weeks.

A coalition of 63 countries, led by Costa Rica and the United States, has been pushing for more than three years for a comprehensive treaty banning all forms of human cloning. The coalition of mostly Catholic, African amd Caribbean countries wants the treaty drafting process to begin immediately.

Another group of about 20 countries, led by Belgium, Japan, and Britain, favor a ban on reproductive cloning. But they want to keep the door open to the controversial practice of using human embryos for research, a process known as therapeutic cloning.

U.S. delegate Susan Moore said the United States rejects the distinction between reproductive and therapeutic cloning.

"A ban that differentiates between human reproductive and experimental cloning would essentially authorize the creation of a human embryo for the purpose of destroying it, thus elevating the value of research and experimentation above that of a human life," said Ms. Moore.

Opponents of the total ban argue that it is too early to rule out types of research that may hold out hope for a cure to debilitating diseases.

Britain's U.N. Ambassador Emyr Jones Parry said his country is aware that embryo research raises important ethical issues. But he said it would be wrong for the world body to try to overturn an earlier decision by the British parliament that it should be legal.

"If other countries decide they want to ban therapeutic cloning then we respect that," he said. "All we are asking for is the same respect in return. We believe it would be totally wrong for the United Nations to attempt to override the position we have reached in the U.K. through our democratic process."

Ambassador Jones-Parry vowed that therapeutic cloning would continue to be permitted in Britain, no matter what the outcome of the U.N. vote.

The cloning debate ended inconclusively Friday, and no further action is expected until after the November 2 U.S. presidential election. Cloning and stem cell research have become an emotional election issue.

But Costa Rican Ambassador Bruno Stagno, the main proponent of a cloning ban, explained that the question before the United Nations is different from the one facing U.S. voters.

"Our draft does not address issue of embryonic stem cell research, because what we are worried about is human cloning per se," he noted. "Human cloning is a technique, embryonic stem cell research you can do it with embryos in fertility clinics or from cloned embryos that proceed from human cloning. Our draft strictly addresses the issue of human cloning. So we don't see it as identical to the one being dealt with in the U.S. elections."

Ambassador Stagno says he remains hopeful of a compromise that could bring about a consensus on the cloning issue. He said more closed-door negotiations will be held before further action is taken.