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American Life League

Although President Clinton has said the United States would work with other nations to ban human cloning, American officials are actually working to prevent any such ban. When the UNESCO general conference meets in Paris next week, its members will consider a genetics document that is deliberately ambiguous about human cloning.

The American position came to light during a meeting of President Clinton’s National Bioethics Advisory Commission, when Noelle Lenoir, a French jurist, thanked the Americans for opposing a German proposal to ban human cloning. Lenoir is a member of the French Constitutional Court. She also chairs UNESCO’s International Bioethics Committee (IBC), which has been working for four years on a “Universal Declaration on the Human Genome and Human Rights.” She said that the German representatives came to the last meeting of the IBC with a “very strong position to biotechnology”—that is, to human cloning—but that the members of the American delegation were “very positive and very helpful” in countering that German effort.

Lenoir described the final draft as a “compromise” between countries that “were very much opposed to biotechnology and those [that] were much more in favor.” In the latter group she named the United Kingdom, the United States, and Japan.” She expected that the entire declaration, including the ambiguous language on human cloning, would be adopted by consensus at the next meeting of the UNESCO general conference in Paris, which will take place from October 21 to November 12. However, she did note that if there is debate over the language and there is any change, “the change will be in favor of prohibitions.” (The transcript of Dr. Lenoir’s remarks is now available from the National Bioethics Advisory Commission, at 301- 402- 4242.)

The leader of the German delegation, Dr. Gerhardt Fulda, confirmed that the Germans proposed a ban on human cloning, with a statement that read: “the cloning of a human being—that is, artificial production of an embryo, possessing the same genetic information as another human being—should be prohibited.” The German delegates realized that they could not obtain any consensus in favor of their language, and so agreed to a watered-down version. Fulda said that the consensus language is deliberately ambiguous.

“That is the charm of the text,” he added. “It is, so to speak, a hidden disagreement. In our understanding, the text should be read to mean that if there is any intention to reproduce a human being [this would be banned]. But other delegations will interpret it in their own way.”

The United States is not a member of UNESCO, but maintains an observer delegation to the group. Eric Meslin of the National Institutes of Health said that he and Bill McIlhenny from the State Department had attended the IBC meeting. He confirmed that they, as US representatives, had opposed the German effort, and listed several overlapping arguments that they had used. One argument the American delegates made was that the opposition to human cloning may die down over the next few years, and an international declaration should deal only with enduring principles.

In a September 24 letter, John Cavanaugh-O’Keefe of the American Bioethics Advisory Commission asked John Gibbons, the scientific advisor to President Clinton: “Did the [American] delegation act in accord with the policy stated by the President June 9? Other than UNESCO, is there any other international forum in which the American government is addressing the issue of international cooperation on banning human cloning? Is the administration saying one thing and doing another?”

As of October 6, Gibbons had not responded to the letter.

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