PARIS—According to a CNN report, 19 European nations on April 12 signed an agreement to prohibit the cloning of humans.

Representatives from 19 members of the Council of Europe signed a protocol that would commit their countries to ban by law “any intervention seeking to create human beings genetically identical to another human being, whether living or dead.” It rules out any exception to the ban, even in the case of a completely sterile couple.

“At a time when occasional voices are being raised to assert the acceptability of human cloning and even to put it more rapidly into practice, it is important for Europe solemnly to declare its determination to defend human dignity against the abuse of scientific techniques,” Council Secretary-General Daniel Tarchys said.

The text, which is to become a part of the European Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine, would permit cloning of cells for research purposes. The accord will become binding on the signatories as soon as it has been ratified in five states.

Countries signing are: Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Luxembourg, Moldova, Norway, Portugal, Romania, San Marino, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Macedonia and Turkey.

Britain and Germany — two of Europe's biggest nations — did not sign the protocol.

Germany claims the measure is weaker than a current German law that forbids all research on human embryos — a reaction to Nazi genetic engineering experiments.

Britain, where scientists are at the forefront of cloning, has a strong tradition of defending the so-called freedoms of scientific research.

Responding, French President Jacques Chirac, at a conference of Europe's national ethics committees, said: “Nothing will be resolved by banning certain practices in one country if scientists and doctors can simply work on them elsewhere.

“It is only at the international level that we will be able to prohibit cloning and genetic manipulation that could alter the characteristics of the human race,” he said in opening the conference.

Fears about the dangers of genetic engineering are on the rise as cloning, the exact reproduction of a living being via the replication of the individual's genetic structure, appears to be at hand.

Researchers in Scotland ignited the debate over cloning last March with the announcement that they had cloned a sheep, which they named Dolly. Britain's Independent newspaper said on April 11 that experiments in human cloning could begin in the United Kingdom as early as next year.

Richard Seed, a Harvard University-educated physicist, caused an uproar last week when he said he was ready to set up a clinic to clone human babies and predicted that as many as 200,000 human clones a year would be produced once his process was perfected. He boasted that he could produce a human clone within 18 months.

In reaction to this, President Clinton called on April 10 for a five-year ban on human cloning experiments. (Pro-Life Infonet)