WASHINGTON -- October 22 -- An anticipated vote at the United Nations to enact a global ban on all forms of human cloning now seems to be leaning in favor of research. A vote was expected on a Costa-Rica/U.S. led treaty which sought to ban all cloning -- including therapeutic cloning, which produces stem cells and could cure diseases affecting over 100 million Americans. But in recent discussions on the cloning issue by the U.N. Legal Committee, more nations started voicing support for medical research. The Committee emerged without a vote.
"We are cautiously optimistic that the voices of patients are being heard at the U.N.," said Daniel Perry, president of the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research (CAMR). "Support at the U.N. for therapeutic cloning is growing and it's much like what we've seen on Capitol Hill -- once Members of Congress are educated about the issue and fully understand the science, they realize that you can ban reproductive cloning and still allow therapeutic cloning to move forward. The same is happening at the U.N., many nations once co-sponsoring the Costa Rica-U.S. treaty have now changed their positions to support therapeutic cloning research," stressed Perry. The 17-nation Southern African bloc -- including seven nations that had been co-sponsors of the Costa Rica/U.S. treaty -- came out unanimously this week in favor of allowing therapeutic cloning research to proceed.
CAMR held a press conference at the U.N. on Oct. 13 with scientists, advocacy groups, and patients urging the global body to reject this treaty and allow therapeutic cloning research to continue. CAMR unveiled two letters, one signed by 125 major patients groups, research institutions and universities in the U.S. and abroad, the other signed by Gov. Bill Richardson, former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Both letters urged U.N. delegates to reject a full ban on all forms of cloning and to allow life- saving medical research to continue.
"For people like my daughter who have diseases with no treatments, let alone a cure, therapeutic cloning provides a great deal of hope," said Sean Lebson, who also spoke at the Oct. 13 CAMR press conference. "I hope the UN delegates will closely examine this issue, hear from the world's best scientists, and most importantly, listen to the patients whom this research could help," he added.
Mr. Lebson's 7-year-old daughter Jessie was diagnosed with Rett Syndrome at just 18 months of age. Rett Syndrome (RS) is a debilitating neurological disorder that deprives little girls of communication and motor skills, leaving them completely dependent on others for every basic need.
Therapeutic cloning has widespread support in the U.S. and abroad. Recently the Secretary General of the U.N., Kofi Annan, voiced his support for the research, and many key U.S. allies including South Korea, the U.K., Japan, and Belgium have led the charge in defeating the global ban. In the U.S., leading Members of Congress from both political parties, the National Academy of Sciences, 40 Nobel laureates, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the American Medical Association have all concluded that the research is critically important to our understanding of diseases and the development of medical cures needed by millions.
Therapeutic cloning could be used to help nearly 100 million Americans suffering from cancer, Alzheimer's, diabetes, Parkinson's, spinal cord injuries, heart disease, ALS, and other devastating conditions for which treatments must still be found. Therapeutic cloning is fundamentally different from human reproductive cloning; therapeutic produces stem cells, not babies. In therapeutic cloning, the nucleus of a donor's unfertilized egg is removed and replaced with the nucleus of a patient's own cells, like a skin, heart, or nerve cell. No sperm is used in this procedure. The cells are not transplanted into a womb. The unfertilized egg cells are stored in a petri dish to become a source of stem cells that can be used to treat currently incurable medical conditions. Therapeutic cloning aims to treat or cure patients by creating tailor-made, genetically identical cells that their bodies won't reject. In other words, the research could allow patients to be cured using their own DNA.