There is something oddly disconcerting about the way modern life has begun to resemble Arnold Schwarzenegger movies. Take, for example, the 2000 sci-fi thriller ‘The Sixth Day” which featured a pet cloning company called RePet in which customer’s could graft their animal companion’s DNA onto a pre-grown biological blank and within a matter of hours, have an exact replica of Spot or Fluffy. RePet promised pet owners: ‘Should accident, illness or age end your pet’s natural life, our proven genetic technology can have him or her back the same day, in perfect health, with zero defects, GUARANTEED.”
While same-day service is not yet available, a California company has begun taking orders for clones of pet cats. According to the BBC, five customers have already plunked down $50,000 a piece to have Genetic Savings & Clone perform the cloning procedure. CEO Lou Hawthorne assembled a team comprised of scientists who were involved with Texas A & M University in creating the world’s first cat clone, Cc, short for “Carbon Copy.” Hawthorne claims that Cc is now a ‘healthy and adorable two-year-old.”
Customers may be disappointed with the results, though, since what they’ll be getting for their money is not the pet they lost but a genetic replica. As Hawthorne notes,
“There are people out there who use the statement that cloning is reproduction not resurrection. But the interesting part from the genetic perspective is that this is resurrection.
“It is not in terms of a level of consciousness, but in terms of genetics you are getting the same animal back. Personality-wise there are differences.”
While ‘genetic resurrection” may lead to interesting bioethics discussions (or to banal plots in B-horror movies) it’s unclear why this would be of value to a pet owner. As David Magnus, co-director of the Center for Biomedical Ethics at Stanford University, points out: “The people who want this are spending huge sums of money to get their pet immortalized or to guarantee they’re getting a pet exactly like the one they had before – and it’s simply not possible.”
Although GSC promises a full refund to any customers who are not satisfied, it still seems morally problematic to exploit the human/pet bond, particularly when genetics has little impact on the characteristics — lovability, personality, shared memories — that make animal companionship worthwhile. Arguments against taking advantage of people (particularly wealthy eccentrics) are unlikely to have much of an impact in our libertarian/capitalist society, though, so this is probably a minor concern for most people.
What should be of importance, however, is the ethical issues surrounding the treatment of these animals. The main question that needs to be addressed is why we would condone a procedure that is ultimately unnecessary and which increases the amount of animal suffering in the world. As John Hopkins bioethicist Hilary Bok explains,
Cloning causes animals to suffer. Egg donors must have their ovaries artificially stimulated with hormone treatments and their eggs surgically harvested. Given the unusually high rates of late-term miscarriages and high birth weights among clones, the surrogate mothers are at greater risk of dying or suffering serious complications than animals who become pregnant naturally. The clones, themselves, however, suffer the most serious problems: They are much more likely than other animals to be miscarried, have birth defects, develop serious illnesses, and die prematurely.
No pet owner should be willing to allow hundreds of other animals to suffer needlessly just so they can obtain a ‘genetic replica” of an animal they love. Pets, like their owners, are individuals and should be valued for their uniqueness and personality. The loss of a family pet can be traumatic and painful. Animals can provide love and companionship and their effects on their owners should never be mocked or dismissed as a silly, contrived attachment.
But nothing, not even ‘genetic resurrection”, can bring back that which is lost to the finitude of death. Cloning is not the answer; it only leads to more unnecessary suffering and death. Lost pets can’t be replaced, though the love they provide can be. It doesn’t require a team of scientists, thousands of dollars, or a morally specious process. All it takes is a trip to the local animal shelter.