21 OCTOBER 2004
STATEMENT BY JUSTICE SEBASTIÃO PÓVOAS, REPRESENTATIVE OF
PORTUGAL, TO THE SIXTH COMMITTEE OF THE 59th SESSION OF THE UNITED NATIONS GENERAL ASSEMBLY (Agenda Item 150: International Convention against the reproductive cloning of human beings)
There is a legal principle that states that a blatantly obvious fact does not need any evidence to support it.
The Latin's had a similar principle in their “In claris non fit interpretatio”
But sometimes, what for some seems obvious and clear becomes so controversial that a full explanation is needed to prove its veracity.
Each State, each Government has a duty to protect human life and the rights of its citizens. And this should be obvious and clear, especially in a forum where respect for individual rights and freedoms is imperative.
We are here today to approve a draft resolution to create an “ad hoc“ committee which will negotiate a Convention for the Prohibition of Human Reproductive Cloning.
In spite of the urgency the first promoters of this initiative attributed to the subject, already in 2002, we are now in the 3rd year of negotiations and still with no agreement.
Yet, my Delegation does not give up and feels even more motivated to try to reach an agreement.
Let’s try to elaborate a little bit more.
Stem Cells play a central role in the normal growth and development of humans.
Normal growth and development, including the maintenance of tissues and organs in the body, require the production of new cells via cell division. However, specialized cells, such as blood and muscle cells, are unable to divide and produce copies of themselves.
Instead they are replenished from populations of stem cells, which have the unique ability to divide to produce both copies of themselves and other cell types.
Stem cells, therefore, play a crucial role in supporting tissues such as blood, skin and gut that undergo continuous turnover (cell replacement), and muscle, which can be built up according to the body’s needs and often damaged during physical exertion.
The scientific community is naturally excited about the potential use of stem cells.
Stem cells may help us understand how a complex organism develops from a fertilized egg.
Identifying the factors that determine whether a stem cell chooses to carry on replicating or differentiates into a specialized cell type, will help scientists understand what controls normal cell development.
Stem cells have also the ability to replace damaged cells in the body.
This property has led scientists to investigate the possible use of stem cells in regenerative medicine.
Under certain conditions, stem cells can be induced to become other types of cell, such as blood cells and muscle cells, nerve cells, heart cells, or insulin producing cells.
Stem cells may, therefore, hold the key to replacing cells lost in many devastating diseases for which there are currently no cure, for example, Parkinson’s, heart disease and diabetes.
Stem cells are found in the early embryo, the fetus, the placenta and umbilical cord, and in many tissues of the body.
There are 3 main types of stem cells:
Embryonic stem cells, which are isolated from embryos that are five to six days old. Removing them would consequently kill the embryo;
Stem cells of fetal origin, which can either be retrieved from the umbilical cord blood or from fetal tissue;
Tissue stem cells, which can be derived from various adult tissues.
To date, these stem cells have been found in bone marrow, blood, skin, muscle, liver, brain, the cornea and retina of the eye, the lining of the gastrointestinal tract, and pancreas.
The primary role of these cells is to maintain, and in some cases repair, the tissue in which they are found. For example, stem cells that are found in the skin will give rise to new skin cells, ensuring that old/damaged skin cells are replenished.
But scientists are now investigating the possibility that an adult stem cell from one tissue may, under the right conditions, give rise to cell types of another tissue.
My delegation emphatically rejects the use of the first type of stem cells.
We find the idea of creating and destroying human life for scientific research deeply disturbing.
We must not forget that at present research for infertility treats the embryo as a reproductive entity.
To use an embryo as a source of body cells is a very different notion, both scientifically and ethically. It would treat the embryo purely functionally, as a resource and no longer as a whole.
Scientists and philosophers have been debating the ethic and moral aspects of this issue for years. But our position is based not only on such moral issues, although they are indeed serious.
We are deeply worried that allowing therapeutically cloning with embryos up to 5 or 6 days will inevitably take us on a sliding slope towards other, totally unacceptable forms of cloning. No one can seriously pretend that if that cloning would be allowed there would be any way of enforcing its limitations. It just would not happen.
We also consider as totally unacceptable the social risks and dangers that allowing these procedures would create in developing countries- millions of women could be offered money in exchange for their embryos.
It would be a frightening scenario, and one which would create an enormous problem with unpredictable consequences.
Adult stem cell research must of course be encouraged and allowed. And why not look also into stem cells from umbilical cords?
In such a sensitive matter, economic aspects and motivations, as the interests of powerful financial groups or pharmaceutical companies, have necessarily to take second place.
In Europe, a start has been made with the 1997 Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine which prohibits the production of embryos for research purposes, together with its additional protocol of January 1998 banning the cloning of human beings.
The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, from 2000, forbids the reproductive cloning of human beings, eugenic practices – in particular ones aiming at the selection of persons, and making the human body and even its parts a source of financial gain ( Article 3, 2C).
In spite of all the hype there are no reports of patients having benefited from embryonic stem cell research.
Animals receiving these cells have formed tumors, or the cells have been rejected by the immune system of the recipient
These reasons are more than enough to adhere to the Costa Rican project for a Resolution (A/C6/59/L.2).
Let s draft a Convention.
Those who choose not to adhere will be responsible for their own decision and its consequences.