United Nations University and the Institute of Advanced Studies, a Tokyo-based UN think tank, have released a paper that examined the ethical dilemma of cloning. The main purpose of “Is Human Reproductive Cloning Inevitable: Future Options for UN Governance” is to trace the evolution of international legislation related to cloning and to highlight five future options of governance. It poses the following question: should cloning be banned altogether or should the international community focus on the differences between reproductive and therapeutic cloning in its effort to regulate this scientific development?

The document defines reproductive and research – or “therapeutic” – cloning. It also mentions the legislative framework of some countries when it pertains to reproductive cloning. In a section focused on therapeutic cloning, the report mentions that members of the scientific community tend to prefer to work with embryonic stem cells. However, it also reports some positive results from adult stem cell research.

Approximately half of the document approaches cloning from the standpoint of its effects on human dignity. Among the main elements that are to be considered are the possible perception of the clone as a full human being and the fact that “many societies have tended to identify and marginalize all kinds of people based upon real or perceived difference.” The document alludes to the idea that human clones would face struggles that are compared to racial minorities or transgendered individuals. The report attempts to move away from reproductive cloning, stating that the debate about the cloning of human beings is superfluous because the current level of technology “would not guarantee the birth of healthy humans.”

Other elements considered central to the debate about cloning include freedom of scientific research and equal access to potential medical benefits. While discussing freedom of research and choice, the researchers point out that groups who oppose reproductive cloning and the use of embryonic stem cells “have often religious ties,” while “some point out that the ethics of society should be secular, not religious.”

The document stated that “pursuit of better human health increased reproductive choices and freedom of research need not to be tempered by concerns of human dignity.” We often hear about the interdependency of social spheres. The debate on cloning is perhaps one of the core examples of the need to consider ethics in establishing processes of governance.

The document also provides a brief overview of past attempts by the international community to establish international governance (regulations) of cloning. The UN General Assembly ultimately decided to draft a declaration, as opposed to a convention, because the international community could not come up with a consensus (some countries wanted a ban on only reproductive cloning, whereas others wanted to ban the practice altogether). The UN Declaration on Human Cloning was adopted on March 8, 2005.  Ultimately, the document called upon member states to prohibit all forms of human cloning. The UNU-ISA document states that “the declaration may for some be seen as a victory for countries which stood to opposed to research cloning … they managed to insert the phrase ‘protection of human life’ alongside protection of human dignity” in some sections of the declaration. This is perhaps one of the only instances in which a pro-life ethic was successfully incorporated in an official UN document.