Irving: Speaking Out About The Costa Rican Cloning "Bust" At The United Nations

Dianne Irving’s Comments
November 23, 2003
Reproduced with Permission

Amazingly, it seems that Dr. Irving is "big time" persona non gratis, "enemy #1", among "prolife" leaders at the United Nations and elsewhere these days. All by herself alone, apparently some are asserting, she personally caused the disastrous collapse of tireless "prolife" efforts at the United Nations to get a "prolife" Costa Rican Resolution passed in an international effort to produce a UN treaty that would "ban all human cloning".

Dear Friends:

One thing clearly needs to be decided. Either support should be given to a bill that is truly a "total ban" on all human cloning, or else support should be given to a bill that is only a "partial ban" on human cloning. If a bill purports to be a "total ban" on all human cloning, but is really just a "partial ban", then the public needs and has the right to know that fact. This is not about a "perfect" bill, or about "incrementalism". It is about stating the truth about a bill that is purported to be a "total ban" but in reality is only a "partial" ban on human cloning.

Those involved in the drafting and promotion of any bill on human cloning have a professional and moral obligation be honest to the public and to their supporters as to whether their bills are really "total bans" or just "partial bans". Why can't they just be honest and truthful about it? Why is there an erroneous but perceived need to falsify the science and to use linguistic loopholes in legislation in order to garner public support when the public would support a bill using the correct science and no linguistic loopholes? After all, the consequences of serious flaws in such legislation are that real live cloning of human beings -- for both therapeutic and reproductive purposes -- will be allowed to slip through the cracks -- nationally and internationally. And seriously, what are the real chances that such fatal flaws will be revisited and corrected "later"? In the meantime, wouldn't human cloning progress full-steam-ahead, all along the public being under the well-crafted illusion that there is a "total ban on all human cloning" -- with the imprimatur, however unintended, of the prolife movement? Just what is "prolife" about that?

BRIEF HISTORY: In April 2003, a "prolife" Costa Rican CONVENTION was proposed to the United Nations that claimed to be a "total ban" on all human cloning. My analysis of that Convention demonstrated that it would have allowed extensive human cloning to take place, and thus it was not a "total ban" as advertised. In September 2003, a different document ("kept close to the chest" at the UN) was submitted as a "prolife" Costa Rican RESOLUTION. Although the stated purpose of this Resolution was simply to be a "proposal to continue discussions" about a "total ban" in future UN debates, that Resolution itself contained very specific erroneous and frankly sophisticated scientific language that, if incorporated into any future UN treaty on human cloning, would have still allowed for extensive human cloning -- both therapeutic and reproductive. If anyone can find any flaws in either of my analyses -- and prove it -- I would surely appreciate it if they would please let me know, and I would be happy to announce to the world that I had been wrong.

I sent out my long analysis of the April 2003 Costa Rican Convention several months ago, and FYI it is posted at: I was never contacted by anyone, from any prolife organization, at the UN or elsewhere, about this Convention for any input, nor was I even aware of the September 2003 Resolution document until last week. Upon obtaining a copy of the Resolution (which was purported to be "flawless"), I did an analysis of it, and sent it to several people involved with its promotion at the UN for their consideration -- hoping to be helpful. FYI, I have copied that analysis below, and I think upon reading it you will see that it is perfectly clear that this latest Costa Rican Resolution too -- purportedly the one that would have been voted on last week at the United Nations until the Committee voted to shelve further discussions for two years -- would still allow extensive human cloning if the "exceptions" language of the prohibition used in it were to be incorporated into any future UN treaties. Consequently, such a UN treaty would simply be a "partial ban", and not a "total ban", on human cloning - and the public needs and has a right to know that. Why such problematic idiosyncratic "language" was used in the Costa Rican Convention or Resolution at all remains a big mystery. Where did it come from?

Simply put, it was not my responsibility to "get this right" in either of the "prolife" Costa Rican documents; nor was I ever contacted by any of those promoting the Costa Rican Convention or the Costa Rican Resolution at the United Nations. Nor did I ever personalize my concerns to anyone, or name names or organizations, in any communications, but rather raised only legitimate scientific questions about the soundness of these documents. So if this Resolution would have failed to support a "total ban" on human cloning if incorporated into any future UN treaty as advertised, the fault lies only with those who drafted it using very problematic language, and with those who promoted it. All I did was simply analyze what was posted on the official website of the United Nations. The "fault" of any document that is inherently flawed lies not with me. This entire situation has gotten completely out of control, and its "handling" is, to be frank, rather sophomoric.

Hopefully the following concerns that I have expressed about the language used in the Costa Rican Resolution can be of help to those who, in the future, are involved in drafting and promoting a ban on human cloning at the United Nations that is truly a "total ban", and not just a "partial ban". Indeed, my hope is that these concerns could be of help to any group or organization that is contemplating drafting a total ban on human cloning, as apparently the same problematic language could end up anywhere. If anyone has any questions on this issue, I would appreciate it if they would have the courtesy of contacting me immediately:

I fully intend, and look forward, to analyzing any future "human cloning ban" that is promoted by the United Nations or by any other organization, and I thank you very much for your consideration.

Dr. Dianne N. Irving, M.A., Ph.D.


(edited for clarity Nov. 23, 2003)

Having looked at the language used in the Costa Rican RESOLUTION, it is my concern that the document would still have allowed for quite a bit of human cloning because of the language used (or omitted) in the "exceptions" section of the Resolution. In U.S. state and federal law, at least, if a bill or other legal document does not specifically prohibit something, then it is allowed (i.e., not covered). The use of specifically problematic language in a bill can also be used later as a linguistic loophole to allow human cloning to take place -- for both therapeutic and reproductive purposes.

Below please find the language in the "exceptions" section of the Costa Rican Resolution that is still problematic as, if it were to be incorporated into a final UN Treaty to "ban all human cloning", it would still allow human cloning. If the Costa Rican effort is to produce a "total ban" on human cloning, then the language used in this Resolution -- or later proposal -- will not work. If the Costa Rican effort is to produce a "partial ban" on human cloning, then it would work. Which is it? My comments and explanations follow. Perhaps these comments will be found helpful to you in such discussions at the UN to come.

Problematic language in the "exceptions" section of the Costa Rican Resolution:

"2004 in order to prepare, as a matter of urgency, the draft text of an international convention against human cloning, bearing in mind that it will not prohibit the use of nuclear transfer or other cloning techniques to produce DNA molecules, organs, plants, tissues, cells other than human embryos or animals other than humans, and recommends that the work continue during the fifty-ninth session of the General Assembly from _______ to _______ 2004 within the framework of a working group of the Sixth Committee; ..."


My concerns with this language:

At least here the Resolution acknowledges that there are "other cloning techniques". But, again, the use of specific language in the "exceptions" section of the prohibition would still allow some human cloning. For example:

1. "molecules, DNA": Some cloning of human embryos is accomplished by means of pronuclei transfer. This has been accomplished in animals for decades. For example, the male pronucleus from the just-fertilized oocyte of one human embryo (produced by IVF), and the female pronucleus from the just-fertilized oocyte of another different human embryo (produced by IVF) can be removed by micromanipulation and placed together in an enucleated oocyte, which is then stimulated, and a new cloned human embryo would be reproduced. This cloned human embryo would be genetically unique! In fact, such embryos would be human/human chimeras. This is accomplished by the cloning of DNA molecules, not by cloning involving whole nuclei. Human pronuclei are not whole cells, nor whole nuclei, but only parts of nuclei -- just molecules, and they are molecules of DNA. Therefore the exceptions in the Bill would allow the cloning of human embryos by means of pronuclei transfer for both "therapeutic" and "reproductive" purposes.

The same problem exists with the use of artificially constructed sperm, oocytes and/or embryos. In the sections of the article copied below, please note their discussion of yet another kind of human cloning technique -- "nano-cloning". Note that there are already National Institutes of Nanotechnology in over 40 different countries. Such cloning, using "artificially constructed" chromosomes, sperms, oocytes, and embryos, is included in the current New Zealand bill on human artificial reproductive technologies (HART Bill): "gamete means ---- (a) an egg or a sperm, whether mature or not; or (b) any other cell (whether naturally occurring or artificially formed or modified) that --- (i) contains only 1 copy of all or most chromosomes; and (ii) is capable of being used for reproductive purposes."

"Nano-cloning" is also discussed in the July/August issue of The Hastings Center Report, Special Supplement on "Reprogenetics":, as well as in the report by the Department of Commerce and the American Science Foundation on Converging Technologies for Improving Human Performance: Nanotechnology, Biotechnology, Information Technology and Cognitive Science, The section of the following excerpt from another recent article (below) discussing "nano-cloning" is bolded in red: (emphases added)
22 Biotechnology Law Report 376
Number 4 (August 2003)
© Mary Ann Liebert, Inc.

Social and Ethical Issues in Nanotechnology: Lessons from Biotechnology and Other High Technologies



BIOTECHNOLOGY CAN BE BROADLY DEFINED as the use of specially bred living organisms to solve problems and produce new products or, more narrowly, as the intentional alteration of living organisms by manipulation of their DNA. In either case, nanotechnology-that is, the creation of moleculesize machines and other devices and the manipulation of substances molecule by molecule-will play an increasingly important role.

The ability to custom human goals. In the early decades of the twenty-first century, concentrated effort can bring together nanotechnology, biotechnology, information technology, and new technologies based in cognitive science. With proper attention to ethical issues and societal needs, the result can be a tremendous improvement in human abilities, societal outcomes,and quality of life.1

... In any event, biotechnologists and public policy makers need to understand the social and ethical issues raised by nanotechnology as they impact and merge with those of biotechnology. This article outlines some of those issues.


Nanotechnology has an enormous potential to do good in society. However, like many technologies, its introduction and implementation raise serious societal and ethical issues, both for the scientists who are developing this technology and for the members of the public who may benefit from or be exposed to it. The purpose of this paper is to explore some of these societal and ethical issues ...

Cloning and nanotechnology (pp. 13-14)

Nanotechnology can be used to clone machines as well as living creatures. Issues similar to those currently plaguing policy makers about biological cloning need to be raised early in the life of nanotechnology.

Proponents of nanotechnology postulate a world where DNA strands can be custom built by repairing or replacing sequences in existing strands of DNA or even by building the entire strand, from scratch, one sequence at a time. With enough nanorobots working quickly enough, one could build a DNA strand that will produce a perfect clone. ... The same issues will arise, or re-arise, if nanotechnology is successful in promoting cloning of DNA segments, cells, organs, or entire organisms.

A prepublication report of the National Academy of Sciences54 highlights the dangers and promise of cloning. The issues highlighted in the Report echo those that will affect the nanotechnology debate in this area. During the committee's deliberations, five overarching concerns emerged. The first was whether anything could theoretically go wrong with any of the technologies. For example, is it theoretically possible that a DNA sequence from a vector used for gene transfer could escape and unintentionally become integrated into the DNA of another organism and thereby create a hazard? The second was whether the food and other products of animal biotechnology, whether genetically engineered, or from clones, are substantially different from those derived by more traditional, extant technologies. A third major concern was whether the technologies result in novel environmental hazards. The fourth concern was whether the technologies raise animal health and welfare issues. Finally, there was concern as to whether ethical and policy aspects of this emerging technology have been adequately addressed.

Are the statutory tools of the various government departments and agencies involved sufficiently defined? Are the technologic expertise and capacity within agencies sufficient to cope with the new technologies should they be deemed to pose a hazard?55 Even if we assume that the current battles over genetic bioengineering as a cloning technique will have been resolved (one way or the other) by the time nanotechnology perfects its own methods of cloning, social issues will arise. It is likely that nanotechnology's efforts will lead to twists in the assumptions that lead to the resolution of cloning issues in terms of genetic bioengineering. Policy makers should anticipate, now, that in setting the boundaries for bioengineered cloning, the need to foresee issues that will arise from cloning by nanotechnology and be ready to reevaluate cloning regulation before nanotechnology perfects its own methods of cloning. If we do not anticipate the nanotechnology problems, the debate will emerge in an environment like the current one: one filled with a frenzy and uproar, rather than in an atmosphere of reflection and deliberateness.

Social policy and law always lag behind science It has often been said that law breathlessly tries to keep up with scientific advances. This is likely to be the case in nanotechnology. ...

2. "tissues": many researchers (e.g., Gearhart) use the phrase "human tissues" to refer to what are in reality totipotent diploid human primitive germ line cells. This is one way to by-pass legislation prohibiting human embryo research -- just call it "tissues". Thus the cloning of new human beings by means of the twinning of thesetotipotentcells, or cloning thesediploidcells by means of nuclear transfer,for both "therapeutic" and "reproductive" purposes, would not be covered if the researchers' deceptive definition of "tissues" is accepted.

3. "cells other than human embryos": would not cover the cloning ofa single cell-- such as the single-cell human zygote -- using all cloning techniques,for both "therapeutic" and "reproductive" purposes. Nor would it cover -- depending on when during the fertilization process a new human being begins to exist -- the use of pronuclei transfer for both "therapeutic" and "reproductive" purposes, since pronuclei are only parts of a single cell and are formed before syngamy and before the single-cell zygote.

4. "animals other than humans": would not cover the creation of human/non-human chimeras producible by several cloning techniques, in both therapeutic and reproductive research.

IN SUM, while the general language in this Costa Rican Resolution, i.e., "Convinced that human cloning for any purpose whatsoever, is unethical ...", acknowledges that all cloning of human beings is unethical, and while being assured that their intentions are sincere, the language used in the "exceptions" section of the Resolution (almost identical to that used in the U.S. federal bills' "exceptions" sections) would still allow the cloning of human beings by means of: (1) pronuclei transfer; (2) the use of "artificially constructed" chromosomes, sperm, oocytes and embryos; (3) the production of single-cell human zygotes using all human cloning techniques; (4) possibly the use of germ line nuclear transfer (GLCNT) with diploid primitive germ line cells, as well as the use of these totipotent primitive germ line cells in cloning by twinning. All such human cloning that slips through the cracks would allow human cloning for both therapeutic and reproductive purposes. It would also allow the production of human/non-human chimeras -- for any purposes.