The U.S. government hopes Germany will endorse a U.N. resolution banning cloning. Though a national ban is already on the books in Germany, the country's diplomats at the U.N. seem to be humming and hawing.
Germany's position on a worldwide cloning ban remains unclear.
There are no two ways about it: Germany opposes cloning humans, whether reproductive or therapeutic cloning. Creating human embryos is not only strictly prohibited in Germany, but the country’s parliament, the Bundestag, appealed for a worldwide ban earlier this year. Thus, it comes as no surprise that the United States is keen to enlist Germany's support to forbid all forms of cloning everywhere.
The United States would welcome German support for a convention that "outlaws this unethical technique worldwide," U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Negroponte said in an interview with the Frankfurt Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper published Tuesday.
The United Nations has been debating the issues of cloning lately and the member states could be called on to vote on a worldwide ban soon. So far 58 states have ascribed to a Costa Rican proposal for a total ban.
It's not the vote, though, that’s generating discussion. A rival resolution initiated by Belgium which the U.S. interprets as permitting therapeutic cloning has received 23 supporters. The proposal calls for states to individually pass legislation on cloning, whether banning it, declaring a moratorium or regulating it.
However, Negroponte and other cloning opponents feel such a resolution does not go far enough. The U.S. ambassador wants to see the creation of an international convention banning cloning worldwide, and says it should be passed regardless of resistance from its closest ally, Britain, as well as from China, Singapore, Israel and Sweden, all of which are in favor of permitting cloning for medical research.
So far, though, the United States is the only scientific heavyweight among the adherents of a total ban. Germany's support would increase its leverage with states that are still wavering.
German negotiators at the U.N. in New York, however, are trying to avoid the issue coming to a head in a decisive -- and derisive -- vote, despite the fact that Germany's parliament made clear in February that the country must work towards a worldwide ban. Politicians from across the board -- with the exception of the pro-cloning, neo-liberal Free Democratic Party -- have criticized the government's fence-sitting position, which they say violates the Bundestag's decision.
Foreign Ministry State Secretary Kerstin Müller has defended the diplomats' behavior. "On an international level the point is to achieve a convention that will be supported by as many states as possible," she told the Frankfurter Rundschau newspaper earlier this month. "In short: If the clone research states are ignored, nothing will be gained."
But Negroponte has discounted the Germany government's logic. "It's hard to imagine a compromise on this question," he told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.
Though creating human embryos is banned in Germany, the embryos can be imported for scientific research in exceptional cases and under tight regulations. Only embryos created before January 2002 may be imported and only a handful of scientists have been granted licenses to do so.
Scientists say research with human stem cells, which are made through therapeutic cloning, could lead to breakthroughs in curing diabetes, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease, and that stem cells can be used to help restore the functions of damaged or failed organs.
Opponents of the use of embryonic stem cells accuse scientists of "playing God" and say the new technology will inevitably be abused, resulting in human cloning and what they call "designer babies." The procedure is also controversial because the embryos are killed when the stem cells are harvested.
The United States advocates using adult stem cells, which exist in many organs, instead of embryonic stem cells. But their use for creating other kinds of tissue is limited.