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UN balks on therapeutic cloning; nations forge ahead

Starting April 1, researchers in Sweden will be able to legally clone human cells for therapeutic purposes, like their UK colleagues.

On February 2, an overwhelming majority of the Riksdag, Sweden’s single-chamber parliament, voted to allow medical research on fertilized human egg cells, and somatic nuclear transfer to create human embryos up to 14 days old. Experiments will have to be approved by an ethics committee; cloning for human reproduction will be banned.

The new law puts the country slightly at odds with the Council of Europe Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine, which forbids creating human embryos for research purposes. Sweden signed the convention in 1997, but never ratified it.

Meanwhile, the Brazilian lower house of Congress on March 2 passed a landmark biosafety law that allows research on stem cells harvested from ‘spare’ embryos from in vitro fertilization, but not creation of such embryos for the sole purpose of research using therapeutic cloning.

Brazil joined 33 other nations in voting against an anticloning declaration passed by the United Nations’ General Assembly, on March 8. The declaration is calling on countries to prohibit all forms of life research—including therapeutic cloning—that are “incompatible with human dignity and the protection of human life.” The vaguely worded, nonbinding text marked the failure of long-standing attempts to reach consensus over a worldwide convention on human cloning. Many countries refused to exempt medical uses of the technique.

Expressing his country’s frustration over the outcome, Vanu Gopala Menon, the representative of Singapore at the UN called it unfortunate that unanimous concern over reproductive cloning had been “hijacked by those wanting to ban cloning for beneficial medical purposes.”

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