There were no heads of state, paparazzi or crowds of people from various interest groups trying to get into the UN meeting on cloning, Sept. 23-27. It did not have the pomp or circumstance surrounding it as other conferences have had. For onlookers who did not know what was going on, it could have been just another day at the UN. For those veteran pro-life lobbyists at the UN who did know what was to take place during that week, the morning began with a strategy meeting and a short but earnest group prayer.

On Sept. 23, delegates from the Sixth Committee, the committee in charge of legalities, slowly filed into the basement entrance of Conference Room 1 for the beginning of a week-long discussion of Agenda Item 165 of the United Nations’ 57th General Assembly: the proposed International Convention Against the Reproductive Cloning of Human Beings.

This was just the second instalment of meetings that are scheduled to take place over the next two years to discuss human cloning. The September meeting was designed to discuss the scope of the proposed convention.

By the end of general discussion on the third day, two clear camps had emerged. One proposal, led by the French and German delegations, proposed to focus negotiations solely on reproductive cloning, with the intent of banning it. Led by Spain and the United States, the other side was a group of increasingly vocal nations who submitted an alternative proposal stating that they would agree to nothing less than a total ban on all human cloning.

There was a small group of countries whose positions are still developing. There were also two countries that originally supported just a ban on reproductive cloning, but came to endorse a comprehensive ban after pro-life, non-governmental organizations were able to provide them with cloning information.

When the last official country statement was made, the tally showed that both sides had roughly the same amount of support. Negotiations were deadlocked and the two proposals are now scheduled to be considered by the committee and will be voted on by the end of October.

While there was no definitive conclusion at the end of that week, the pro-life camp chalked up the meeting as a tentative victory. “They (the French and German delegations) thought they were just going to march in here and come up with a ‘simple’ ban on reproductive cloning without any discussion or argument,” Peter Smith, a lobbyist from the Society to Protect Unborn Children, said on the last day. “But now, they see that there are a lot of countries who will stand up to defend the human embryo.”

Samantha Singson represents the Life Ethics Education Association at the United Nations.

No difference between reproductive and ‘therapeutic’ cloning

The biggest part of a pro-life lobbyist’s job at the UN is to educate delegates on life and family issues. At the September UN meeting discussing cloning, the most common question was, “What is the difference between reproductive and therapeutic cloning?” This may seem like a simple question of semantics, but the difference is really a matter of life or death to the embryo.

In a flyer that pro-life lobbyists handed to delegates at the meeting, a simple yet stark clarification was published: “The terms ‘reproductive’ cloning and ‘therapeutic’ cloning draw a distinction without a difference. The cloning process, and the cloned human embryo produced in the cloning process, are identical in both ‘reproductive’ (live birth) cloning and in so-called ‘therapeutic’ (experimental) cloning. The only difference is the destiny of the cloned human embryo – either implantation for live birth or destruction for the harvest of stem cells or tissues.”

In reproductive cloning, the human embryo is fated to be born (live birth cloning). Therapeutic cloning is properly called experimental cloning for there is nothing therapeutic about destroying a human embryo for research purposes.

A ban on reproductive cloning would be a false ban, creating the illusion that some human cloning had been prohibited.

A ban on reproductive cloning does not ban cloning because it would merely prohibit the implantation of a cloned human embryo into a woman with the goal of a live birth. Without a comprehensive ban on all human cloning, it would still be permissible for scientists to clone human embryos for the purpose of experimentation and research. Indeed, it would require the destruction of a human embryo by making it a crime to implant it into a woman.

Therapeutic cloning poses an equal, if not greater, threat to human dignity, because human beings are treated as commodities, valuable only for their genetic material. In its official statement, the Holy See outlined the moral dilemma surrounding therapeutic human cloning: “Embryonic cloning generates a new human life geared not for a future of human flourishing but for a future destined to servitude and certain destruction. It is a process that cannot be justified on the grounds that it may be able to assist other human beings.”

No difference between reproductive and ‘therapeutic’ cloning

The biggest part of a pro-life lobbyist’s job at the UN is to educate delegates on life and family issues. At the September UN meeting discussing cloning, the most common question was, “What is the difference between reproductive and therapeutic cloning?” This may seem like a simple question of semantics, but the difference is really a matter of life or death to the embryo.

In a flyer that pro-life lobbyists handed to delegates at the meeting, a simple yet stark clarification was published: “The terms ‘reproductive’ cloning and ‘therapeutic’ cloning draw a distinction without a difference. The cloning process, and the cloned human embryo produced in the cloning process, are identical in both ‘reproductive’ (live birth) cloning and in so-called ‘therapeutic’ (experimental) cloning. The only difference is the destiny of the cloned human embryo – either implantation for live birth or destruction for the harvest of stem cells or tissues.”

In reproductive cloning, the human embryo is fated to be born (live birth cloning). Therapeutic cloning is properly called experimental cloning for there is nothing therapeutic about destroying a human embryo for research purposes.

A ban on reproductive cloning would be a false ban, creating the illusion that some human cloning had been prohibited.

A ban on reproductive cloning does not ban cloning because it would merely prohibit the implantation of a cloned human embryo into a woman with the goal of a live birth. Without a comprehensive ban on all human cloning, it would still be permissible for scientists to clone human embryos for the purpose of experimentation and research. Indeed, it would require the destruction of a human embryo by making it a crime to implant it into a woman.