29 November 2007
Advisors to the UN have called for an urgent international prohibition on the reproductive cloning of humans. In the UK, as in more than 50 other countries, national law forbids the cloning of humans for the purposes of reproduction. In a report issued on 10th November 2007, the United Nations University’s Institute of Advanced Studies (UNU-IAS) says that the proposed ban is intended to prevent "unscrupulous scientists" from taking their research activities to countries that impose no legislative barriers to it.
Previous attempts at international agreement in favour of a total ban on human cloning have failed, despite a common belief that a legal prohibition on reproductive cloning was desirable. The absence of consensus was attributable in part to the complex and controversial questions surrounding cloning for therapeutic research purposes, a matter that is permitted in the UK (subject to strict regulation via the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA)) but remains illegal in many other countries. As a result, in 2005 the UN issued a non-binding Declaration that called for a ban on reproductive cloning, but failed to address therapeutic cloning (see previous news), a compromise that was considered by some to be an inadequate response (study co-author Brendan Tobin: see Reuters news).
The report, Is human reproductive cloning inevitable: future options for UN governance, claims that, in the absence of international action, research “jurisdiction shopping” and reproductive cloning are inevitable, and will necessitate the development of policies and programmes for the protection of the human rights of cloned individuals. Nevertheless, it sets out various approaches to regulation in the field, including the imposition of a total ban on cloning, and a ban on reproductive cloning (with or without full permission or trial permission for therapeutic cloning research).
It is unlikely, however, that the fundamental differences over therapeutic cloning will have altered significantly since the last round of negotiations. Despite being urged by the UN to find a new position “that allows for adoption of a respected and effective mechanism to govern human cloning”, lack of international consensus may once again prove an effective barrier to a global prohibition on reproductive cloning.