Clones Are People Too

In this week’s Rights & Wrongs, Juliette Terzieff reports that the United Nations is concerned about a brave new world in which human clones are the victims of discrimination:

U.N. REPORT EXAMINES RIGHTS OF FUTURE CLONES — Human beings created from cloning procedures in the future will potentially face abuse, prejudice and discrimination, and the world should act now to address the looming situation, says a report from the United Nations University.

The world community should act now to either ban human cloning or legislate mechanisms to protect clones’ human rights, recommends the study, titled “Is Human Reproductive Cloning Inevitable: Future Options for U.N. Governance.”

Efforts to forge a global consensus on the question of human cloning over the last few years have so far failed as some countries object to bans on research (a.k.a. therapeutic) cloning. Scientists who support research cloning believe research into stem cells — which are produced through the cloning of human embryos — could provide cures to a variety of diseases, including diabetes, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.

Whatever way the international community decides to act, it must do so soon, the report says.

As the report’s subtitle makes clear (“Future Options for U.N. Governance”), the majority of the report is concerned with examining options for an international legal regime regulating cloning. The report lays out all options for such regulation, but the report’s language leans toward supporting allowing research cloning but banning cloning for reproductive purposes:

At present, there is no case in international law for banning all types of cloning. However, there is a strong case and urgency to prohibit reproductive cloning since a ban on the procedure is emerging as a customary international norm. The challenge for the international community in choosing the appropriate option(s) is to ?nd a compromise position that allows for adoption of a respected and effective mechanism to govern human cloning.

Public policy demands that the international community show itself as capable of espousing an effective and pragmatic approach with respect to both reproductive and research cloning as a matter of urgency before the birth of a human being from a cloned embryo. This would have a
deterrent effect on the publicised efforts of several groups to produce a cloned human being. On the other hand the delay in arriving at a consensus at the international level may encourage forum shopping by determined proponents of reproductive cloning. Since cloning and the human embryo is a new area for international law, this is a test case for the GA to adapt to the changing face of international law and participate in its progressive development.

Should we be encouraged or terrified that the United Nations is thinking about the regulation of such issues? On the one hand, this kind of bioethics issue, in which states’ desires for the prestige and money that come with achieving scientific breakthroughs creates an atmosphere in which ethical considerations are easily dispensed with, would seem to be begging for a precedent in international law. But this is a case in which the likely international consensus seems sensible (a ban on reproductive cloning but not on research cloning).

On the other hand, given the less than laudable record of, for example, the United Nations’ human rights bodies, the expansion of U.N. interest in an area that is as yet so little understood seems likely to create a perfect storm of unintended consequences.