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Current Events at the United Nations

Aired November 7, 2003 - 21:00:00   ET


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Please take your seats or if not then do you lobbying outside the room, please.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The rule of the gun has to be changed into the rule of law.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (through translator): Homeland or death. We shall win.


LIZ NEISLOSS, CNN ANCHOR: The United States has its ups and downs at the United Nations. Usually, though, it's the global powerhouse on major issues of war and piece. But on Thursday, the United States suffered a setback, and it came down to human cells.

Cloning with under the microscope this week at the United Nations

Hello and welcome to DIPLOMATIC LICENSE. I'm Liz Neisloss, sitting in for Richard Roth.

No country has come out in favor of cloning to make babies or reproductive cloning, but the United States lobbied heavily at the United Nations for a global ban on all forms of human cloning, including cloning for medical research.

Other countries, led by Belgium, disagree.


JAMES CUNNINGHAM, U.S. DEPUTY AMB. TO U.N.: If we agree to the Belgian approach, we would be agreeing to the proposition that we should be working on a ban to present reproductive cloning but we should leave therapeutic cloning outside the realm of that action, and that's never been a principal that we've been prepared to accept.

JEAN DE RUYT, BELGIAN AMB. TO U.N.: This total ban will not be universal. It will only divide the word. Some countries will vote for the total ban, but many others will not, so there will be no convention. And if there is no convention, there will be no ban of reproductive cloning either. That's our concern. It will create anarchy in the world.


NEISLOSS: The U.S. setback came when Islamic nations won a two- year delay.

Iran, speaking for the Organization of the Islamic Conference said cloning was too complex and countries needed time to consult religious leaders. The delay suspends a very contentious debate.

A leading advocate of the U.S. position says they'll keep trying.


BRUNO STAGNO UGARTE, COSTA RICAN AMB. TO U.N.: It's unfortunate on the one hand that the United Nations cannot address issues as important and as urgent as these with the honesty that we would wish, but Costa Rica and all our co-sponsors I think remain determined to continue to bring this issue to the United Nations.


NEISLOSS: So what's at the heart of this debate? I've brought in the experts.

Joining me now , Arthur Caplan, director of bio-ethics at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. Mr. Caplan has served as the chair of the advisory committee to the United Nations on human cloning.

Also joining the discussion, Dr. Micheline Matthews-Roth, associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Matthews- Roth has served as an advisor to the U.S. government on cloning issues.

Arthur Caplan, let's start with you. Can you explain very briefly to our viewers, what is cloning and what's the difference between reproductive cloning and cloning for research?

ARTHUR CAPLAN, UNIV. OF PENNSYLVANIA: Well, cloning is simply taking cells from the body -- your tongue, your arm, some body cell -- taking the DNA out of the middle of that cell, putting it into an egg from which you've removed the DNA.

So it's like coring an apple. You pull the DNA out of an egg. You drop it in from the cell of your body. And if you're lucky and you create the right conditions, you can get the same animal or human being to re-create itself using the DNA you've dropped in from your own body cell.

The difference between reproduction, which some peopling have talked about a lot although I don't think anybody has actually done despite a lot of claims, and therapeutic cloning is, if you don't grow that embryo that you've made by cloning inside a woman, if you just keep it in a dish, put chemicals upon it, you may be able to turn it into heart cells or nerve cells or some other useful biological cell.

So the dream is manipulate it in dishes, make it into something therapeutic, put it inside a human body. Do we want to try to make a person that way?

NEISLOSS: You support the idea of cloning for research purposes. Why is that important? Why is this a good idea?

CAPLAN: Well, I think it's essential to understand that some parts of the human body, when they're injured or suffer for disease, don't regenerate. So we know that the body can grow back skin or blood, but nerve cells or brain cells, heart muscle cells, they don't grow back. If you have a heart attack and the muscle of your heart is damaged, it doesn't fix itself.

Stem cells that come from cloned embryos could be made from your own body cells, so they're genetically the same as you. If scientists could figure out how to trick those cells into just becoming muscle cells or spinal cord cells or nerve cells, they might then be able to find treatments for those various diseases, Parkinsonism or a severed spinal cord or a heart attack victim.

We don't have much to offer that can fix those diseases today, so I think that's the hope, maybe you could use the technique to find some cures.

NEISLOSS: So, Dr. Matthews-Roth, this sounds good. So what's wrong with this? What is wrong with it?

DR. MICHELINE MATTHEWS-ROTH, HARVARD MEDICAL SCHOOL: First of all, what's wrong with it is, to get the embryonic stem cells, you have to kill a growing human. OK? You end a life. Period.

So do you really want to use a bad means to get to a good end? In other words, killing a growing human to cure somebody else. That's the basic line. That's no philosophy, that's science. If you kill a growing human, you take that blastocyst, you break it open, you're killing a growing human.

Now let me just make one point. We aren't.


CAPLAN: Let me jump in there and say we do have a fundamental disagreement, and this is both what divides the U.S. policy, that's why we don't have an agreement in this country, and that's why the American policy isn't accepted by many around the world.

It is true that many people think a zygote or an embryo is the same as a full-grown person or as a developing person. I don't. I think if they're in dishes, they're moral status is a possible person, a potential person. But since not all embryos and certainly not all cloned embryos will become people, it's not correct to say that you're killing or murdering. You might be stopping a potential life.

MATTHEWS-ROTH: But they are human beings.

CAPLAN: Well, I wouldn't say human beings. I'd say their human cells.

MATTHEWS-ROTH: No, no, no, no.


CAPLAN: And I think that's where the key difference is.

MATTHEWS-ROTH: That's the whole point.

CAPLAN: I agree that's the whole point.


MATTHEWS-ROTH: What embryology says -- no. This is -- I'm afraid this is where you're wrong scientifically.

A new human being starts actualization with one cell.

CAPLAN: And, doctor, you know very well.


MATTHEWS-ROTH: No, no, no. All embryos are human beings. All embryos don't survive to grow. That's the difference. But just because they die very young, it doesn't make them any less human.


NEISLOSS: Dr. Matthews-Roth, let me interrupt for just a second, because the point of the United Nations is to get to a convention right now. They need an international consensus, and clearly when life begins is not an open and shut case. Islamic countries are considering that perhaps at the early stages, it is not against their religion to.

CAPLAN: And so do Mormons and Jews and many others too.

MATTHEWS-ROTH: Let's make things very clear here. There is a difference between religious thought and scientific thought. I am talking science.

CAPLAN: I beg to differ completely with that.


MATTHEWS-ROTH: Oh, I'm sorry. Science does know when a life.

CAPLAN: I beg to differ completely with that.


MATTHEWS-ROTH: OK. Let me quote from an embryology text book.

CAPLAN: Don't quote, just simply say.


NEISLOSS: Dr. Matthews-Roth, I'll take your word for it. You don't need to quote.


MATTHEWS-ROTH: An embryologist knows when a life begins. Not when life begins, but when a life begins. And that is with the formation of that first cell, the zygote, and it continues from that one cell until we dell.


NEISLOSS: Let's leave it there for just one moment. Just one moment. I have to bring it back to the subject.

Arthur Caplan, you seem to think that human cloning is something for reproductive purposes something that really no scientists are really going to seriously pursue, that it is not a threat, but doesn't the ability to do scientific research, doesn't that open the door to the problem? Isn't there the possibility that instead of putting this material, keeping it in the petri dish, it will get implanted into a woman?

CAPLAN: Some people worry that if you allow research cloning you're going to be down a slope to reproductive cloning, but I think you can pass a ban that says you may not take anything out of a dish and put it into a woman's body, and that will be just as effective as any other prohibition you're going to put in place.

So unless we're prepared to try and sell the world on a view that the world is clearly not accepting, which is that all human life is deserving of equal protection, including an embryo in a dish, I think we're going to wind up in a situation where we don't stop reproductive cloning, and that's what the problem is now at the United Nations.

We don't have a policy in the United States because we don't agree here. We don't have a policy worldwide because we can't agree on the status of the embryo there, and that's dangerous.

NEISLOSS: So how do you get to consensus? How do you get to a convention with all this lack of agreement? And what good will a convention do?

CAPLAN: Split the issues. Everyone will agree that reproductive cloning is bad and wrong. We could get every country in the world to sign up tomorrow.

Then let's take on the therapeutic or research cloning issue separately. If that would be done, we would at least stop the danger that someone would go out and try to do this. I think only a nut would, but we could certainly make that clearly immoral, clearly against international law.

NEISLOSS: OK. We're going to have to leave it there. A very contentious issue.

MATTHEWS-ROTH: Unfortunately -- yes, I just wanted to say there are nuts out there trying it, unfortunately. But I think what people have to remember is that even for therapeutic cloning you are destroying a life to get to those stem cells.

NEISLOSS: OK. Well, Dr. Caplan.


MATTHEWS-ROTH: And do we really want to say that some human lives are not worthy of protection.


NEISLOSS: All right, Dr. Matthews-Roth, we certainly cannot resolve this debate here in the short time we have, but I want to thank you both very much.

CAPLAN: Thank you.


NEISLOSS: Arthur Caplan, director of bio-ethics at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, and Dr. Micheline Matthews-Roth, associate professor at Harvard Medical School. Thank you both.

Will nations be able to agree on cloning two years from now? Belgium's ambassador Jean De Ruyt hopes so.


DE RUYT: We clearly need more time to reflect on all the issues involved. In the meantime, scientific development may provide new elements and shed more light on the debate.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Security Council feels that factional strife and factional fighting has to stop, that this is a matter of the past and not of the future.



NEISLOSS: A message to the Afghan people delivered by the German ambassador to the United Nations Gunter Pleuger. Germany led a week-long mission of U.N. Security Council members through Afghanistan to check on progress there and to underline international support for the war-damaged nation.

The Security Council members said Afghan loyalties need to shift from warlords to new institutions.

But some good news this week I Afghanistan. On Monday, officials unveiled a new draft constitution, the work of a 35-member commission. It's now open for public comments until a loya jirga or Grand Council meets December 10 in Kabul.

One woman who served on the constitutional drafting committee spent years fighting for Afghan women's rights. Fatima Gailani left Afghanistan as a young woman to attend university. But after the Communists took power in 1978, she couldn't return to her country.

Ms. Gailani is profiled in a new film called "Peace by Peace: Women on the Frontline."

The filmmakers followed women in five countries over the course of a year, documenting what they were doing to build peace. Ms. Gailani spent more than 20 years in exile. The film begins with her return to Kabul.


FATIMA GAILANI, AFGHANI WOMAN (voice-over): It was at the end of Taliban's era that I thought maybe I will never see my country, and I hated that feeling. I always wanted to have hope.

And here I am back where I was born.

My name is Fatima Gailani. I'm from Afghanistan.


NEISLOSS: Recently I sat down with Ms. Gailani to talk about what's unfolding in her country. I asked her about the instability there in a year of rising attacks on civilians and aid workers.


GAILANI: Well, I traveled for the constitution to five provinces without any bodyguards. I sat in the mosques early in the morning till quite late in evening and I didn't have even one person with a rifle with me and thank God nothing happened.

But as you say, things do happen in small parts of the country and of course they do that. Of course they will try their best to discourage us from what we are trying to do. And I think our perseverance and the continuation of the good work that is happening today will stop them for good.

NEISLOSS: So you don't sound worried by what's happening.

GAILANI: Well, if I wanted to get worried, when a super power, the Soviet Union, invaded my country, I should have given up then. I mean, took refuge in one of the Western countries and just stayed there and said goodbye to my country.

But I didn't. No one thought at that time that the Russians would go, or that the whole Soviet Union would collapse because of us.

This is the same thing. It's an evil thing which has happened in Afghanistan, and it was because of our negligence, and now it is the time that we should fix it. And it takes hard work, it takes lots of money, it takes lots of people to give -- I mean, maybe some people like us will give their lives if necessary, but it will be for peace. It will not be for war.

NEISLOSS: The United Nations just last week issued a report saying that opium production, opium growing, is greater than other. A major problem for Afghanistan, that it will fuel corruption, terrorism. What is your sense of how the problem can be addressed, how to convince farmers to give this up?

GAILANI: I think this is a serious problem. This is one thing which worries even me, but it is not, again, impossible.

There are other places they have done things against this. For example, in an area in Iran, a man who was not even very young started when he went in his own village what was happening with opium. He said, "Well, what is the alternative?" Then they introduced an alternative.

What they did there, they produced rose, and you know that rose oil is more expensive than heroin. So the whole area was planting rose.

There is always remedy for these kinds of things.

NEISLOSS: But all these remedies take money. A lot of money, I'm sure you're seeing, is going to Iraq. A lot of resources being given to Iraq. Do you look at the situation there and worry that resources are going to be drained away, that the world's attention will fade away, that it will basically be overshadowed?

GAILANI: Well, the attention hasn't gone away. I mean, this film that was made, it was made not just for Afghanistan, but to link the whole world. Afghanistan, Iraq, we're all linked to each other. We cannot separate ourselves.

I think we have to see it like one big scenario. I believe that there is lots of wealth in the world and it is worth it to spend that wealth and make Afghanistan once again a country which is self-sufficient, which is peaceful again, and then we will have a normal life and be off the shoulder of the world.

But if we leave it halfway, there will be refugees again. There will be terrorism again. How much that will cost?

NEISLOSS: You have been working on the constitution. You were one of a small handful of women on the 35-member drafting committee. What was your role? How do you describe what that was like and what was involved in producing the draft that currently is done?

GAILANI: Really, I wish that the whole world could have seen when we had our talks inside the hall that we were all sitting in. You should have seen how men were asking for women's rights. You should have seen how the Pashtun, the biggest ethnic group, were asking for rights for the (AUDIO GAP).

It was a really good experience. I had the most beautiful experience of my life. The role of the women was extremely important.

As you know, women know in Afghanistan how important it is for them to gain back what they've lost, and maybe even more. So they don't take it for granted. They work. You should have seen. When they were talking that such and such thing is in the constitution of that country, they would immediately go and read the whole constitution of that other country. If we could find one little thing which could improve the situation of women in Afghanistan. Each day, each of us would come with different ideas.

NEISLOSS: We see in the film, you're sitting at a table addressing, it looks like an entire table of men. It's quite a moment.

Can you describe what is in the constitution? Is it mostly Islamist tradition? Is it more democracy? How do you describe the type of constitution, and what role there is for women?

GAILANI: This is the miracle of this constitution, because it is not a secular constitution. It is an Islamic constitution.

How could we have the balance of Islam, democracy, human rights, women's rights, to make it really agreeable and practical for people inside of Afghanistan and also make it a constitution which will be worthy of the 21st century for the whole world.

NEISLOSS: You've said there can be no compromise on Islam.

GAILANI: And there wasn't a compromise on Islam, and there is no conflict between democracy and Islam, women's rights and Islam and also human rights and Islam.

So we had to take it out and educate people that, look, it is right in the Quran, so why are you against it. People don't understand. They were 24 years in war. We forget that 40 years ago we had women in the senate, we had women in the parliament, we had women in the cabinet. There was a time when we had equal pay for the same work in Afghanistan. In Europe, people were fighting for it.

So all of the horrible things that you see for women, for security, for whatever, it is because of 24 years of war. Peace could be the best remedy for that. Security will come with it.

NEISLOSS: As you traveled around, did you hear fear from women? So much change could happen in their lives, so much has happened for some of them. What were you hearing?

GAILANI: Of course they were scared. They are terrified of war. They will do anything that the war will not come again.

I mean, there were hardly any households we saw that they hadn't lost someone, whether it was their son taken away for conscription or a bomb landing on their houses during the civil war or actually street by street they were fighting people who used to be their friends. So they are terrified and they will do anything to prevent war again and unify the country again.

NEISLOSS: Fatima Gailani, thank you very much.

GAILANI: Thank you.


NEISLOSS: Ms. Gailani says she's convinced hardliners will not derail the constitution. The film she is featured in airs in the United States and Canada on public television next year.

Here's another scene from the film "Peace by Peace: Women on the Frontlines" and DIPLOMATIC LICENSE will be right back.






FILIPE PEREZ ROQUE, CUBAN FOREIGN MINISTER (through translator): And I must say the representative of the United States has lied, and I'm going to prove it.


NEISLOSS: Who says the United Nations is full of dull speeches? That's Cuba's foreign minister denouncing the United States this week in the General Assembly. The topic: the United States embargo against his country.

This is the 12th year in a row the United Nations General Assembly approved a resolution calling for an end to the embargo, and each year the resolution picks up more votes. The tally this time: 179 nations in favor, 3 nations -- the United States, Israel and the Marshall Islands -- voted no. Morocco and Micronesia abstained.

This resolution isn't legally binding, but does show world opinion is against more than 40 years of U.S. trade and travel restrictions. And just as in previous years, it was a chance for some verbal fireworks. This year the United States provided a theme, borrowing a line from California's incoming governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.


SICHAN SIV, U.S. DELEGATE TO U.N.: Cuba's best day is when the Cuban people have terminated Castro's evil Communist dictatorial regime and said to him "Hasta la vista, baby."

PEREZ ROQUE (through translator): It is the people of Cuba who have the backing of the international community that we will say "hasta la vista" to the blockade, "hasta la vista" to genocide.


NEISLOSS: President Fidel Castro may have come out the winner at the United Nations, but President Bush vows the embargo stays until there are free elections.

Well, that's hasta la vista from me. I'm Liz Neisloss. Thanks for watching.



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