Human Cloning and International Governance

Since the birth of the first mammal clone – the sheep Dolly – in 1997, the topic of human cloning and its international governance has been at the heart of animated debates at the national and international levels. Reflection within the United Nations has led to the elaboration of normative instruments such as the Universal Declaration on the Human Genome and Human Rights (UNESCO, 1997) and the United Nations Declaration on Cloning (2005).

Today, human cloning remains a highly significant concern for the international community, especially in the light of recent scientific developments which create more technical possibilities for reproductive manipulation of human embryos and for the production of reproductive cells. These developments shed a new light on the ethical debate which calls for reinvigorated international dialogue, involving all relevant stakeholders, and for re-evaluation of the existing international system for governance of human cloning.

But is the international community ready to reconsider its approach to human cloning?

The International Bioethics Committee (IBC) of UNESCO devoted four years of its work (2008-2011) to this question. Its members came to the conclusion that global dialogue would greatly benefit from efforts in the three following areas:

  • Terminology: the IBC argues that the present frameworks and regulations are based on inaccurate and misleading terminologies that inadequately describe the technical procedures relevant to human cloning. The new scientific developments call for the redefinition and clarification of some widely used terms and for the dismissal of others.
  • International governance: the IBC considers that the existing international legal frameworks and regulations are not sufficient to properly address the challenges posed by the most recent developments. They are non-binding and mutually inconsistent as a result of different views of Member States. A process should be initiated that could lead to the establishment of a more robust mechanism, such as an internationally effective and valuable convention or a moratorium, to prohibit reproductive cloning.
  • Dissemination: the IBC stresses the importance of fostering public awareness by disseminating, discussing and debating on cloning issues at all levels. This would allow all countries, including the developing and least developed countries, to participate in the debate and put forward their concerns regarding the new technologies related to human cloning.

If the international community is to confront those issues, it will be faced with the challenging diversity of points of view and moral and cultural positions regarding human cloning technologies. These differences fundamentally need to be taken into account as the issue of human cloning concerns us all. It touches human dignity, human rights and the very basis of the right to life of all human beings.

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