Here we have a small selection of items relating to the proposed international treaty banning therapeutic cloning that is strongly backed by the current US administration - and seems to be going without comment in much of the blogosphere. As before, there is the strong possibility of a vote passing later this month:
The UN has been wrestling with whether to regulate human cloning since 2001, and decided to postpone a decision on it after reaching stalemate last year. Its legal committee will take up the discussion again on 21 and 22 October.
As they were last year, UN delegates are deeply divided. One group, led by Costa Rica and backed by nearly 60 countries, including the United States, is calling for a comprehensive ban on cloning. This includes both reproductive cloning to make babies, and the creation of human embryos for use in medical research.
The other group of countries, led by Belgium and backed by over 20 countries, wants a ban on reproductive cloning only. These countries argue that cloning for research should be allowed because stem cells grown from cloned embryos might lead to cures for countless diseases.
The opposing sides have changed little since last year's deliberations. But Spain, for example, has switched away from supporting a blanket ban because of its change from a conservative to a socialist government after elections in March 2004.
Pro-science organizations have reacted to this new set of efforts to suppress freedom of research:
Lord May of Oxford, president of the Royal Society, the UK's national academy of science, said: "The US should be allowed to decide whether therapeutic cloning should be outlawed within its borders.
But other countries, including the UK, have now passed legislation to allow carefully regulated therapeutic cloning while introducing a ban on reproductive cloning."
While any treaty would take years to hammer out, and countries like the UK are not likely to adhere to it in any case, it would be a blow to supporters of regenerative medicine and embryonic stem cell research. As I note in the latest Longevity Meme newsletter:
Three high profile political events in the next few weeks will go a long way towards determining the next few years of progress in the fight for freedom in medical research. The combination of the California embryonic stem cell research proposition, the US presidential election and the proposed United Nations ban on therapeutic cloning are going to be taken as a referendum on the most promising technologies for developing regenerative medicine and cures for age-related conditions. Never mind that most of us don't have a say in these matters, politicians in the US and elsewhere may end up seeing a mandate to further interfere in the process of medical research.
While we are on the subject, some words of wisdom from James Watson, Nobel laureate and co-discoverer of the structure of DNA: "To what extent research on stem cells will improve the quality of human life, I don't know, but we should be allowed to try."
Following the death of Christopher Reeve earlier this week, I think that the most offensive anti-research arguments (from politicians and advocates) are those that state cures are not right around the corner - ergo it's fine to ban research. Of course medical research takes time, and of course medical research is uncertain ... but freedom is important. The end goals of medicine - to efficiently eliminate all disease, degeneration and disability, to defeat the aging process and allow perfect health for each of us for as long as we choose - are a high and worthy destination.
We should be allowed to try.
Now is a good time to contact your elected representatives and let them know your opinions on the anti-research policies that your ambassadors to the UN are promoting.