The United Nations' Legal Committee have narrowly voted to postpone a decision on whether to ban human cloning. The debate on two competing human cloning resolutions has been a divisive one for the General Assembly.
Although both resolutions ban all human reproductive cloning, they have different approaches to the treatment of human cells which are not being used for reproduction.
The US, Costa Rica and almost 60 other countries want to have a complete ban imposed on human cloning whatever the end purpose, calling it "unethical, morally repugnant and contrary to due respect for the human person".
A draft by Belgium, the UK, Japan, China and 10 other countries proposes a ban on all human reproductive cloning, but exempts "therapeutic cloning" for medical research. The proponents of this approach maintain that cloning very young embryos for research could bring important benefits to society and does not violate the sanctity of life.
The vote in the Legal Committee means neither resolution will reach the General Assembly for at least two years. This was criticised by Germany and France who are keen to impose a universally applicable instrument banning human cloning. Critics fear that the absence of a UN convention on this subject leaves the door open to maverick attempts to clone human beings.
Ethical guidelines for human tissue research and stem cell research funding are currently being discussed at EU level, while the legal status varies widely between Member States.