Anti-Cloning Activist Helps Tico U.N. Team
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Costa Rica’slead scientific voice at the United Nationsagainst human cloning and embryonicstem cell research isn’t even a Tico.In fact, not only had he never visitedCosta Rica when he first began working asan unpaid adviser to the country’s U.N.delegation, if you were to drop him offoutside the National Theater in downtownSan José, the only thing he’d be able to askfor in Spanish would be either un cafecitoor el baño, he jokes.But whether it’s speaking before theU.N. General Assembly’s Legal Committeeor in a more informal one-on-one session atlunch with delegates from other countries,what it really boils down to for Dr. DavidPrentice is teaching people about the hardscience behind human cloning and stemcells, something about which most diplomatshave only a cursory knowledge.“FOR me a lot of this is an educationalissue,” the U.S. citizen told The TicoTimes in an interview last week at hisoffice in downtown Washington, D.C.“Most people don’t know the basicstuff,” Prentice added. “When you starttalking fancy, scientific stuff, the eyesglaze over, so it’s very much kind of theprofessorial type of thing, trying to explainbasic biology to people.”When not arguing the scientific basisfor Costa Rica’s opposition to humancloning before the United Nations,Prentice is senior fellow for life sciences atthe nonprofit Family Research Council’sCenter for Human Life and Bioethics.The council is a conservative lobbyinggroup that advocates opposition to abortion,gay marriage and fetal stem cellresearch, among other issues.BRUNO Stagno, Costa Rica’s ambassadorto the United Nations and the one whoinvited Prentice to join the Tico delegation,said the biologist was “very important anduseful” in putting forth Costa Rica’s oppositionto human cloning.“The focus was on the science becauseothers – Amb. Stagno and so on – framedthe ethical arguments very well,” Prenticesaid, adding his role was to “speak withauthority as to the science – this was whatI was there for.”Prentice’s role with Costa Rica at theUnited Nations last year began with aninvitation from Stagno to conduct a briefingin New York on the science behindcloning and stem cell research.“It was just kind of a standard thing I do,go in and talk primarily about the scienceand here’s how that impinges on the ethics,”he said. “It kind of snowballed from there.”PRENTICE said he was then askedback for more briefings. Some involvedinviting “anyone they could to come,” whileothers were more targeted.“There were a few representatives fromdifferent states that they wanted me to talkto, some were one-on-one briefings; sittingwith them, kind of looking over the languagethat they had proposed for the convention,”he said. “From there, it was ‘well,when we present this we really want to havesomebody to speak to the science and we’veworked with you, we trust what you’re saying,and so let’s just have you do it.’”THEN came the challenge of Prenticebeing a U.S. citizen and not a Tico.“You could kind of see the wheels turning,”Prentice said. “Amb. Stagno and someof the other people going, ‘well, let’s justmake him a member of the delegation.’AndI’m going, OK, can you do that? And theygo, ‘we’ll work on it,’ and the next thing Iknow, I get a call saying, ‘you’re CostaRican now,’” he added with a laugh. “OK.”Once the debate began in the SixthCommittee in October 2003, Stagno presentedthe legal and ethical arguments againstcloning, after which he relinquished his seatto Prentice, who gave a science-based presentationof what the issue involved.SPEAKING before the United Nationscan be exciting, so Prentice said he hadarranged for another member of the delegationto periodically “poke me in the shoulderto slow down” to give the simultaneousinterpreters a chance to keep up with the scientificterminology he was using.Prentice said “private sources” and notthe Costa Rican government paid for hisexpenses while in New York, where theU.N. headquarters are located.“It’s pretty much voluntary… whetherI’m going to Costa Rica or the UnitedNations or to Missouri or something likethat,” he said. “This is something I believein passionately and I want to see the truthget out there.”The U.N. General Assembly approveda declaration against human cloning lastmonth (Feb. 25). Though not the total banCosta Rica had proposed (TT, Dec. 10,2004; Feb. 11), the declaration urges membercountries to protect human life duringthe application of cloning technologies.PRENTICE, 47, is originally fromParker, Kansas. He is married and has adaughter, and has worked full-time for theFamily Research Council as a senior fellowfor life sciences since last July.Before that, he was a biology professorat Indiana State University for 20 years.
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