Thursday, January 1, 2009

Cloned Dogs

This morning in The New York Times, there was a very disturbing story about the cloning of dogs, "Beloved Pets Everlasting." This photograph by Heidi Schumann is from the article by Eric Konigsberg and shows MissyToo and Mira, clones taken from the DNA of their "mother" Missy, a border collie-husky mix breed who died in 2002. Lou Hawthorne, the owner of a California-based biotechnology company called BioArts that works with a cloning institute in South Korea, used the DNA of the dog that had belonged to his mother. (In one of the more bizarre parts of this story, much of the funding for this project came from the founder of the distance-learning online institution, the University of Phoenix, who also happens to be Hawthorne's mother's boyfriend.) The article focuses more on the idea of how the four surviving clones (others didn't make it) are largely the same but have some differences, which in essence can be credited to environmental factors. As I read the article, I couldn't close my mouth, I was that much in shock.

The ASPCA has issued the following statement about pet cloning: "The ASPCA calls for a moratorium on the research, promotion and sale of cloned and bioengineered pets." Their primary concern is that more research and evaluation is necessary before one can assess any benefits for pet cloning. They are calling for "a multidisciplinary commission ... to evaluate the manner in which the work has proceeded, the regulations and oversight required to protect the safety of human and nonhuman animals, and the ethical consequences of continuing this work." (Click here to read their entire policy on pet cloning.) Needless to say, I am definitely against it.

In the article, clients of Hawthorne's who paid for a clone of their dog are quoted as saying, "The only problem with dogs is that they have such a short life." Yes, they do have a short lifespan, when compared to humans. But that is part of what one must accept when taking a puppy into your home. Anything can happen. Pets die. All animals die. Guess what? So do humans! We have to learn to let them go. We cannot hold onto loved ones from the past, or we will never be able to live our own lives. Death is the one thing that teaches us about living, and to be able to replicate a loved one only enhances selfishness and denigrates the loved one's own life. Death is the one thing we cannot control. (I think you can see what I'm suggesting with the potential future of this.) By manipulating DNA and cloning replicas of previous pets, we are rejecting the pet's own life, ignoring the inherent value in the pet's life, for its very self and for what it meant to the pet's family. The fact that Hawthorne wants to clone these pets because the original Missy had great traits may sound wonderful in theory. Of course we want our loved ones to stay with us. But doing so ignores the fact that every creature is unique and should be respected for its uniqueness, not for the potential of replicating its uniqueness.

The irony of the entire story is that Hawthorne's own mother doesn't even like the cloned dogs. She thinks they're nothing like her Missy. Indeed, after her dog died, she eventually got another dog. Before people start cloning their pets, they need to remember there are hundreds of thousands of unwanted pets already sitting in shelters that are desperate for homes, and waiting to be loved. Please let us not add to their number by throwing out rejected clones who turn out not to be exactly like the original, not what a client paid for.

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