Chamundeeswari Kuppuswamy: International Policy, Cloning, Biotechnology - Tarrytown 2011





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Published on May 3, 2012

Chamundeeswari Kuppuswamy, PhD and Lecturer in Law at the University of Sheffield, discusses international law concerning human reproductive cloning and biotechnology at the 2011 Tarrytown Meeting.

The Tarrytown Meetings bring together people working to ensure that human biotechnologies and related emerging technologies support rather than undermine social justice, equality, human rights, ecological integrity and the common good.

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Presentation Notes:
My focus was essentially on the 1997 Declaration on the Human Genome and Human Rights. I used this instrument to talk about types of binding sources of international law and how one of them is of particular relevance in the context of human reproductive cloning. In the process I looked at the role of UNESCO and the UN and their contribution to the regulation of human reproductive cloning. I stated that while there was a failed attempt at putting together a treaty to prohibit human reproductive cloning, there however exists binding law by way of customary international law that establishes a norm against human reproductive cloning, tracing its origin to the 1997 Declaration. I then asked the general question about the relevance of international custom as a source of law in other areas of technology such as the topics under the key emerging global challenges.

The second part of my talk focused on the institutional challenges of producing hard law in human biotechnologies. The International Bioethics Committee of UNESCO that produced the 1997 Declaration is an innovative committee made of independent experts and tasked to deal with challenges in the 'life sciences'. But by the very nature of the body, sitting within an intergovernmental organisation and using a mandate set by the States, it has been more focused on the public law aspects of governance of biotechnologies. Human rights law has been the framework if not the complete focus of the three main instruments elaborated by the IBC. The public-private interface and private commercial interests have been out of focus in this context. But there is still room to reclaim space in private-public issues and reopen the discussion on ethical aspects of ownership on the genome. The 1997 Declaration encapsulates in Articles 1 and 4 some of the tensions between the commercial and public interests that featured in its debates between 1993-'97 wherein the human genome was (symbolically) given the status of 'the heritage of humanity' indicating some form of regulated ownership. The Doha Round of the World Trade organisation has led to proposed amendments to the TRIPS Agreement in relation to Article 31 demonstrating that the international community's parallel interests in health and trade have converged with some positive results for the protection of health. The human genome may be intimately tied to identity of the human being, but is also happens to be a valuable natural resource. There are some rich debates on genetic resources in international law, the Convention on biological diversity have just concluded a protocol on access and benefit sharing of genetic resources. This in effect marks a turning point in international law and is making in-roads into international intellectual property law. Multiple coordinates need to be established for the debate on human genetic resources. Various forums are suitable to deal with various aspects of the regulation of human genetic resources, and this should include the IBC and trade forums.

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