Why, people want to know, did Barbra Streisand decide to clone Samantha, her coton de tulear? What would compel someone to spend $50,000 or more to create a genetic replica of a pet dog?
In the recent buzz over pet cloning, the issue has largely been framed as a personal decision, albeit a quirky one. But the decision to clone is not merely personal. There are broader ramifications for dogs, not only for the large group of dogs we call pets but also for a whole canine underclass that remains largely invisible to us but whose bodies serve as a biological substrate for cloning research and industry.
Clones like Ms. Streisand’s dogs Miss Violet and Miss Scarlett don’t materialize out of thin air but require the help of a whole team of female dogs. The cloning process begins with a group of dogs that will “donate” their eggs, a process that involves pharmaceutical manipulation of hormone levels and a surgical egg-harvesting procedure. Once removed from the donor dogs’ ovaries, the eggs will be enucleated — the unwanted DNA from the egg donor is wiped clean and the desired DNA from the pet is inserted.
If all goes well and the eggs fertilize, they will be surgically implanted into one or more canine surrogate mothers that will carry a litter of cloned puppies to term. After performing their tasks of producing a dog, the worker dogs will be used for another purpose.
Dogs, it seems, can inhabit very different moral habitats within the human mind and within our cultural frameworks. Extreme value, both monetary and emotional, is placed on certain individual dogs, while an entire underclass of dogs are treated as objects, as means to an end, as cogs in the wheels of human commerce and moneymaking.
The exploitation of the canine underclass is perhaps the most insidious problem with cloning. But there are other things to worry about. Two of the nation’s most prominent animal advocacy organizations, the HumaneSociety of the United States and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, have come out against cloning pets. They have profound concerns about the welfare of the animals involved in cloning research, but they also point out that millions of dogs are languishing in shelters, waiting for a home and often facing early death by euthanasia. We collectively, as a pet-obsessed culture, are responsible for their situation. And yet we can feel O.K. about spending tens of thousands of dollars and tremendous energy and resources to produce cloned puppies? (Ms. Streisand also adopted a rescue dog after Samantha’s death.)
The moral admonition to “adopt, don’t shop” is not only about saving the life of a homeless dog but also about moving past shaky and unsubstantiated assertions that certain dogs, usually the so-called purebreds, are somehow smarter, more athletic, more beautiful and better behaved than mongrels, and that by spending loads of money on a dog, we’re going to get exactly what we want and expect. None of this is true.
Cloning is symptomatic of deeper problems in how our culture thinks about pet dogs. It reinforces the status of dogs as things to buy and collect, and as sentimental tokens and emotional support objects. Dogs are valued for our feelings toward them, rather than for who they are as individuals.
In 2016, a cloning company sought to partner with an animal hospice and palliative care organization on whose board I serve. We declined. Veterinary practices providing end-of-life care are an an obvious market for pet cloning services, since these veterinarians serve clients who are staring into the abyss of loss. Veterinarians might, these companies suggest, offer DNA banking or cloning to help soften a pet owner’s grief, to create an emotional bridge that might help a dog owner “let go” so that a dog isn’t made to suffer at the end of life by a distraught human trying to prolong the relationship.
Denial and complicated grieving are surely part of the landscape of veterinary end-of-life care. But there are much healthier ways to support pet owners dealing with death — for example, by enlisting the help of a social worker trained in pet loss and bereavement.
Because I have written elsewhere about the ethics of cloning pets, I’ve received emails from people trying to convince me that I’m wrong to condemn cloning. They’ve shared their stories of being saved from an emotional shipwreck by the re-creation of a beloved dog into a cloned sister or brother. They’ve described to me the intense bond they have with the cloned dog and how that bond is even stronger, if that is possible, than the bond with the original.
When it comes to the power of the human-canine bond, I sympathize. My dog Maya is nearly 15 and has stepped onto the down escalator of physical deterioration. I know what’s at the bottom, and I can hardly bear the thought of losing her. And yet, even if I had millions of dollars at my disposal, I wouldn’t consider cloning Maya. It isn’t because she’s notexceptional, but precisely because she is.
Biotech companies that provide cloning services to pet owners are selling an illusion. They are selling a dream of never having to say goodbye. But this is an unhealthy dream, both for the dreamer and for those animals whose work it is to produce these clones. The prospect of losing a pet can be unthinkable, but it is inevitable. Why spread the suffering to the underclass of dogs that are forced to do the reproductive work, and to all of us, by making our relationship to dogs all about ourselves?
We claim to be a pet-loving culture. But supporting the cloning industry, either by purchasing a cloned pet or by wishing that you could, is a tainted kind of love.
Jessica Pierce, a bioethicist, is the author of “Run, Spot, Run: The Ethics of Keeping Pets.”
Article from NY Times