Essay on Cloning Dogs

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The Ethical Dilemma of Pet Cloning

There are few things harder than saying goodbye to a beloved pet. It can be utterly heartbreaking, but what if you didn’t have to say goodbye? What if you had the technology to bring your furry friend back, would you? Should you? The ability to clone animals, specifically mammals, has been considered feasible for quite some time now, but was proven possible as recently as 1996 when scientists successfully cloned a sheep, known as Dolly. After the initial success, scientists began researching the possibilities of cloning other animals: mice, cattle, pigs, goats, rabbits, and even cats and dogs. Specifically, the science of dog cloning has advanced considerably since the researchers presented the first successfully cloned dog in 2005, and today, the technology exists as a commercially available service to ordinary pet owners. Although the technology successfully exists, it also begs the larger question of is this practice ethical.

Firstly, when discussing the moral implications of technology of this kind, it’s important to understand the procedure better. The Companies that clone pets use a procedure called somatic cell nuclear transfer. While the animal is alive, the customer can contact the company, which in turn will send a sample collection kit. The customer will then take their pet to the vet to have a tissue biopsy performed. This tissue is sent back to the company whose lab techs then isolate and culture the cells and prepare them for cryogenic preservation until the customer decides to initiate the cloning procedure. Once the customer has decided to proceed with the operation, they will be asked to pay a cloning deposit (with the rest of their fee due upon the delivery of their new pet). Female animal subjects, that belong to the various companies, then have their eggs harvested and the nucleus removed so that it can be replaced with the cells from the customer’s pet. The embryo that’s created is then transplanted into a surrogate female dog who will carry it to term and nurse it until it’s ready to be delivered to its new home. Hormone injections are then used on the surrogate to create an optimal environment for a growing pet fetus. The environment is key and must be controlled so that the fetus’s growth and development are not disrupted by outside forces like pollutants or other stressors. This doesn’t make for a pleasant situation for the surrogate dog, who has no choice and receives no compensation in the matter. This is likely the biggest

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Similar to human fertility and gestation, the process can be tricky and offers no guarantee that the outcome will be a success. It may take multiple tries or it might not even work at all, many cloned pregnancies don’t take hold in the uterus or die shortly after birth. An article written in Vanity Fair stated that “Ethicists from the White House to the Vatican have long debated the morality of cloning. Do we have the right to bioengineer a copy of a living creature, especially given the pain and suffering that the process requires? It can take a dozen or more embryos to produce a single healthy dog.” (Duncan 2018) The companies also state there is no guarantee that the clone will act or even look like the original. While the process produces a genetically identical version of the animal in question, there is no way to be certain of getting the same breed and sex. The lab cannot control how the genes interact with one another inside the host dog, and while a genotype may be identical, the phenotype may not. The cloned pet could have different markings and not look identical to the original pet. Technically, they would be genetically predisposed to the same behaviors and learning capabilities, but just as with identical twins of any species, this could result in a radically different pet. After acknowledging all this, can it be worth the money? Can it be worth the suffering of the surrogate animals? How can the practice of essentially bringing back a beloved family pet after they’ve passed be considered ethical?

Interestingly enough, looking at this practice through the lens of Act Utilitarianism, there is an argument to be made that this practice could be considered ethical. Proposed by English philosophers Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill, Act Utilitarianism is based on the principle of Utility; “an action is right (or wrong) to the extent that it increases (or decreases) the total happiness of the affected parties.” (Myers 2006) Act Utilitarianism, focuses on the actual happiness or benefit to the individuals and is based on down-to-earth, straightforward, and practical reasoning. Considering this, the case to be made is that bringing a beloved household pet back to life, through the process of cloning would provide the group (in this case the pet owner) ‘happiness.’ However, through a utilitarian viewpoint, one must remember it is essential to weigh the pros and cons that the technology would provide and just because animal cloning may cause overall happiness for pet owners, that doesn’t necessarily mean it is ethically acceptable. There may be other legitimate reasons to clone animals. For instance, researching the effects of diseases on the same dog, replicating service dogs with rare and desirable abilities, or cloning endangered species for conservation. Yet, one can see the immoral implications of these examples as well, the easiest of which to point out where do you draw the line? Just because something can offer a singular group (pet owners) some happiness, does that outweigh the cost of over animals suffering for a few pet owners to get their “beloved” animal back?

Lastly, those who would contemplate taking part in this procedure must understand that while a clone may perfectly replicate the genome, it won’t be the same dog because it won’t have lived the same life, a life that it lived in the company of its owner. Just like a person, it will not have experienced the experience that made the pet what it was. In almost every way that matters, it would be considered a different dog and although that dog might be a perfect genetic clone of the original, it will never be the same dog. When reflecting on this situation, it seems as though Jeff Goldblum’s character in the original Jurassic Park had it right, when he stated, “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn't stop to think if they should.”

References:

    1. Duncan, David Ewing. “Inside the Very Big, Very Controversial Business of Dog Cloning.” Vanity Fair, Vanity Fair, 7 Aug. 2018, https://www.vanityfair.com/style/2018/08/dog-cloning-animal-sooam-hwang.
    2. Myers, Bob. “Ethics.” Ethics for the Information Age, 2nd Ed. Quinn, Michael J. Pearson Education, Inc. 2006. ISBN: 0-321-37526-2 A Gift of Fire. Baase, Sara. Prentice Hall., http://www.cs.fsu.edu/~myers/cop3331/notes/ethics1.html.
    3. Konigsberg, Eric. “Beloved Pets Everlasting?” The New York Times, The New York Times, 31 Dec. 2008, https://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/01/garden/01clones.html.
    4. Brogan, Jacob. “The Real Reasons You Shouldn't Clone Your Dog.” Smithsonian.com, Smithsonian Institution, 22 Mar. 2018, https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/why-cloning-your-dog-so-wrong-180968550/.

 

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