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Australia backs "Catholic" UN push on cloning

The Howard Government has supported a bid in the United Nations from Catholic countries and the US, to adopt a treaty banning all human cloning.

The Australian's Science correspondent reports that the ban encompasses the replication of embryos for research into cures for Alzheimer's and spinal cord damage.

It was proposed by Costa Rica and, aside from Australia, has been supported by the US and 59 predominantly Catholic and developing countries.

Australia's support for the treaty reverses the Government's 2003 opposition to the global ban. Previously Australia supported a proposal banning "reproductive" cloning of living people but supporting "therapeutic" cloning of embryos for research.

That proposal was put forward by Belgium, Britain and 23 mostly European nations, along with China and Japan.

Michael Bliss, director of the International Law and Transnational Crime Section, confirmed the change.

"The Government had decided that Australia would co-sponsor the draft Costa Rican resolution on human cloning at this year's United Nations General Assembly."

Although the UN at the weekend deferred the contentious matter until February, University of Minnesota bioethicist Jeffrey Kahn said it was not dead, given the re-election of President George W. Bush. "(Republicans) may feel more confident in renewed efforts to ban cloning," Professor Kahn said.

According to Brian Opeskin, acting president of the Australian Law Reform Commission, if the "conservative" proposal does get up and an international treaty is adopted, Australia wouldn't "necessarily" be required to harmonise its domestic legislation.

"But it would be curious if we adopted a domestic position that differs from our position at the international level."

Canberra's change of heart - or about-face - emerged as Australia's own 2002 legislation on cloning and human embryonic stem cell research comes up for review and a three-year moratorium on therapeutic cloning ends. Health Minister Tony Abbott, an opponent of therapeutic cloning, is expected to guide the review process.

Meanwhile, Catholic media overseas is focusing on the negative aspect of the non-binding nature of the treaty.

AsiaNews reported that the proposal to have a nonbinding declaration rather than a treaty was made by Italy. The wording, however, was true to the Costa Rican proposal. The Italian delegate proposed a declaration "to prohibit any attempts to create human life through cloning processes and any research intended to achieve that aim."

Canberra backflip on cloning law (The Australian 22/11/04)
United Nations postpones vote on cloning ( 20/11/04)

United Nations downgrades cloning treaty to nonbinding declaration (Catholic World News 19/11/04)
Human cloning, science's dominion over life ( 19/11/04)
Where are the ethics in brazen bioethics? (The Age 22/11/04)
Where are the ethics in brazen bioethics? (The Age 22/11/04)

22 Nov 2004