As the global debate over human cloning takes on new urgency, Germany said on Friday it will host an international conference in May with the goal of putting fresh momentum behind a global ban.
Claims by Clonaid's Brigitte Boisselier that her company has cloned the first human have sparked global outrage
The event, to be led by German Education and Research Minister Edelgard Bulmahn and held in Berlin, will seek to accelerate negotiations for an internationally enforcible ban at the United Nations.
Germany and France together introduced a proposal for a global ban at the U.N., but negotiations have been stalled until September 2003 under strong resistance from the United States, Spain and the Philippines, who thought the resolution wasn't restrictive enough.
On Friday, Buhlman indicated for the first time Germany might consider changing its position on stem cell imports and support a ban on all types of human cloning if that were the only way of bringing the United States and other critics on board.
"I would also be open to this possibility," she told the Berliner Zeitung newspaper, adding that she didn't want the issue to weigh down negotiations. In light of recent cloning developments alleged by "dubious scientists" and religious sects, she said, it is more important than ever to reach a deal in the U.N. by the end of the year. Buhlman said she was "fairly certain" that reports from the Raelian UFO cult that it had produced two clone babies were fake.
Criticism from conservatives, Greens alike
The opposition Christian Democratic Union and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union, also said they would seek to pass a full ban on cloning in the German parliament, the parties' joint spokesman on genetic technology, Helmut Heiderich, said on Friday. The opposition has criticized Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's government for not supporting U.S.-led efforts for a global ban on all types of human cloning, including the use of human embryonic stem cells.
The Greens, the junior partner in Germany's coalition government, also issued a statement saying the party supports a ban on both types of cloning -- a position it says is supported by a majority of Germans. The party said the government's current policy of negotiating an international ban that only applies to reproductive cloning has been met with "little success," and that Germany should pass a law banning all cloning that it can promote as an example for the rest of the world.
International ethics councils renew calls for ban
Though few have bought into the claims made by Clonaid -- a company founded by the Raelians -- that it has cloned two babies, the development has served as a wake-up call that human cloning is not far away. And ethics councils in Germany, France and the United States and other countries are issuing rallying cries for an international ban.
The head of Germany's National Ethics Council, Spiros Simitis, has stated in recent weeks that he is close contact with his American and French counterparts. Simitis says that reproductive cloning should not be allowed under any circumstances. In Germany, the cloning of human embryos is already illegal.
So far, the Raelian sect has failed to provide evidence supporting its claims of having produced the world's first two clone babies, but the organizations has succeeded in reigniting the heated debate over a technology that is likely to be developed sooner rather than later. And politicians and religious leaders from major countries -- warning of a future filled with everything from cloned sex slaves to human organ farms -- are seeking to tie up the legal loose ends.
In France, Health Minister Jean-Francois Mattei told the Le Parisien newspaper his government planned to introduce one of the toughest pieces of legislation yet banning reproductive cloning, making the practice a "crime against human dignity" in his country. The law will call for sentences of up to 20 years in prison for individuals convicted of human cloning. The bill, he said, would not include a statute of limitations and would allow clones themselves to take legal action against their creators at anytime and in any country.
In Germany, a law is already on the books banning most types of human cloning. Under the Embryonic Protection Act passed in January 2002, Germany's parliament banned reproductive cloning as well as the extraction of stem cells, which requires the destruction of the human embryo. However, the Bundestag does permit the import of human embryonic stem cells from other countries -- including Israel, which is the biggest exporter to Germany. Now, a handful of German political parties want to tighten the law.