don't clone your dog

Release Date: Sep 22, 2009

By Dr. Michael W. Fox

Goats, sheep, cows, pigs, rabbits, mules, horses, deer, cats and mice have been cloned for commercial and biomedical purposes. In August, 2005, the first dog was cloned, an Afghan hound, by South Korean researchers at Seoul National University where earlier, human embryos had been cloned and stem cells extracted. The surrogate mother of this cloned dog was a yellow Labrador retriever. One hundred and twenty three dogs were used as both egg donors and surrogate mothers, and from over 1,000 prepared eggs or ova each containing a skin cell from a dog's ear, three pregnancies resulted, one ending in a miscarriage, one resulting in a pup that died soon after birth from respiratory failure, and the third a viable clone of a male Afghan hound. Some bioethicists fear that the cloning of man's best friend is the final stepping stone to eventual public acceptance of human cloning.

Cloning entails taking a single cell from an animal and placing the cell inside the egg case or ovum taken from another animal of the same species, that has been emptied of its contents. After a procedure that activates the cell to begin to divide, the ovum containing the cloning cell is placed in the uterus of a hormonally receptive surrogate animal. Because of low success rates in getting the cloned cells to implant into the uterine wall, and because the placenta and embryo may not develop normally, several ova containing the clone cells may be put into the surrogate animal's uterus at the same time. 

People taking a beloved dog or cat to the veterinarian for a routine health check will have a few cells removed, quickly frozen, and shipped for storage at a Pet Cloning Center.  A processing and storage fee will be charged, and when the owners want their companion animals  to be cloned, the Center will begin the process after a substantial down payment has been made, or full payment has been provided. Before this new biotechnology is perfected and large-scale operations set up with hundreds, possibly thousands, of caged and hormonally manipulated female dogs and cats serving as ova donors, and others being the recipients of ova containing the to-be-cloned pets' cells, the cost will probably be in the six-figure range for some time before mass-production follows mass-demand. But there are many concerns other than financial:

The cloned dogs will not be exact replicas of peoples' beloved animal companions, and many clones will probably be spontaneously aborted, or have to be destroyed because of various birth defects. Abnormalities may also develop later in life. Clones of other species often have abnormal internal organs, neurological and immunological problems, and may be abnormally large at birth due to a defective growth-regulating gene function. What about the origins, quality of life and future of the thousands of caged female dogs  who will be exploited by the pet cloning industry, and the procedural risks to their health and overall welfare? 

Do the ends justify the means? There is no evident benefit to the animals themselves.  

Why not adopt from an animal shelter a dog or puppy who looks like the one you miss or might be passing on soon, who needs a good home; or donate money, equivalent to what it would cost to produce one clone, toward improving  the welfare of hundreds, even thousands of dogs, and other animals in communities around the world?

What are these ends anyway? Certainly there is a commercial end that is potentially lucrative, given the right market promotion and endorsements by professionals and celebrities.

But is there real human benefit in making a clone of one's beloved canine companion?  Or is it mere pandering to a misguided sentimentalism?  Because of the close emotional bond between humans and their animal companions, the pet cloning business I see as an unethical exploitation of the bond for pecuniary ends. Exact replicas of peoples' dogs cannot be guaranteed, and will not likely be created because an identical environment during embryonic and postnatal development cannot be achieved. All clones may, at the time of birth, be of the same chronological age as the age of the cells taken from the to-be cloned animals. So if a cell is taken from a six-year-old dog, because of the aging "clock", the clone may already be aged by six years at the time it is born.

From various religious and spiritual perspectives and beliefs, cloning violates the sanctity of life and the integrity of divine or natural creative processes.  It is problematic from the point of view of reincarnation, or transmigration of the soul.  From a Buddhist perspective, the consciousness incarnate in the body of the clone, or the consciousnesses in the bodies of many clones from the same original animal, are all going to be different from the original donor.  

It is not inconceivable that dog clones might also be created initially on an experimental basis, and used to provide spare parts such as kidneys, hearts, hips, and knees for ailing dogs.  Research laboratories may also use cloning to quickly develop identical sets of dogs and other animals for biomedical research. Some sets and lines of clones having the same genetically engineered anomalies to serve as high fidelity models of various human diseases may be created and marketed to develop new and profitable drugs to treat these conditions in humans and other animals.  

The bioethics and medical validity of these developments need to be examined. And pet owners who put out the money to have their animal companions cloned may want to think twice, since they may well be giving this new cloning business not only a financial jump start, but also the socio-political credibility that it needs in order to gain widespread public acceptance, and a market for human cloning and for other biologically anomalous and ethically dubious products and processes.

The fact that a venture capitalist made a grant of  $2.3 million and hired an agent to find a university biotech.  laboratory already in the cloning business to clone his dog Missy (visit  www.missyplicity.com )  and the subsequent public relations and media promotion of this project, points to another agenda: The cloning of pets may be a ploy to promote human cloning.  If the cloning of pets becomes a reality, the public will become desensitized to the issue of cloning and more likely to eventually accept a highly lucrative biotechnology for childless couples and rich and selfish singles for the cloning of complete human beings, and of partial human beings (such as anencephalics or headless clones) as a source of replacement tissues and organ parts. 

The Philosophy Department at Texas A&M University, where the Missyplicity Project was started in another department before being spun off into a private company "Genetics, Savings and Clone",  developed a set of "bioethical guidelines" based on the ethical principle of what they call axiomatic anthropocentrism. This strategy was clearly designed to deflect public criticism and concern over the morality and animal welfare aspects of the Project. Axiomatic anthropocentrism essentially means whatever is good for people   is ethically acceptable. Anthropocentrism --- human centeredness --- is an outmoded worldview or paradigm that many advocates of animal rights and environmental protection see as the root cause of untold animal suffering and ecological devastation over the millennia.

Several female dogs were put up for adoption on the web site, one of the company's "bioethical principles" being that regardless of the source through which dogs are obtained for use as egg donors or surrogate mothers,( from  animal shelters, breeding, farms, etc), at the completion of their role in the Missyplicity Project, all dogs shall be placed in loving homes. No funds shall be expended for dogs raised under inhumane conditions, such as puppy mills. 

The Missyplicity Project included several goals in addition to the cloning of Missy that were published on the web site. These included dozens, perhaps hundreds, of scientific papers on canine reproductive physiology; enhanced reproduction and repopulation of endangered wild canids; plans to develop improved canine contraceptive and sterilization methods as a way of preventing the millions of unwanted dogs who are euthanized in America every year; to clone exceptional dogs of high societal value, especially search-and-rescue dogs; and develop low-cost commercial dog-cloning services for the general public.

These goals gave the Project the kind of credibility that a gullible public and organizations and professionals with a limited grasp of the inherent limitations and harmful consequences of cloning, would readily accept. Ethical concerns and the questions concerning the validity and relevance of applying cloning biotechnology to wildlife conservation, to dog overpopulation, and to the propagation of high performance dogs were cleverly deflected by these promissory goals.

Genetic Savings and Clone, the commercial spin-off from the Missyplicity Project at Texas A&M University, launched "Operation CopyCat" in 2000.  The company estimated that the price for cloning a cat or dog would drop to $25,000 within three years. They never succeeded in cloning a dog, and eventually out of business, but a northern California biotech company, BioArts International created several cloned cats for sale at $ 50,000 each that turned out to be a commercial flop. Undaunted, BioArts linked with the disgraced* cloning scientist Hwang Woo Suk who had succeeded in cloning dogs in Korea, in an effort to market cloned dogs inthe US in 2008. BioArts International set up a public auction to clone five dogs for willing customers, with bids starting at $100,000! In another publicity stunt, this company offered owners a free chance to have their dogs cloned, and chose the German shepherd rescue dog who worked in the rubble of the 9/11 terrorist attack at the World Trade Center in new York city, as the 'most clone-worthy canine'.

* Woo Suk was still under indictment for embezzling research funds in Korea, and for violating ethics laws in the course of acquiring hundreds of eggs from women for his cloning research, when his business association with BioArts international was made.

For additional information about genetic engineering, cloning, and the creation of transgenic animals, see: M. W. Fox (2004)  Killer Foods: When Scientists Manipulate Genes, Better is Not Always Best. New York: The Lyons Press; and, M. W. Fox (2001) Bringing Life to Ethics: Global Bioethics for a Humane Society. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.