Companion animals pose ethical questions. By law they are just property, but most of us who have pets do not think of them that way. Anyone who knows me knows that Teddy, my 11 year old rescue dog, is a part of the family and a beloved companion with his own unique personality and habits.
Given my feelings for my dog, I completely understand why there are now businesses that clone dogs and why people want this, but I also wish they would choose not to do it.
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. Along the way, the surrogate mothers may be treated with hormones that, over time, can be dangerous, and many of the babies are miscarried, born dead, or deformed. When a dog was first cloned, in 2005—a scientific achievement that Time hailed as one of the breakthrough inventions of the year—it took more than 100 borrowed wombs, and more than 1,000 embryos. “Surrogate mothers are a little bit like The Handmaid’s Tale,” says Jessica Pierce, an ethicist and dog expert who teaches at the Center for Bioethics and Humanities at the University of Colorado. “It’s a canine version of reproductive machines.”
Not just reproductive machines; the dogs themselves are reduced to commodities, and when one fails (that is, dies) then cloning is a way to replace a lost piece of property with the closest possible new property. And doing so requires using a number of other dogs to create that new piece of property.
The people doing this clearly have a lot of love for their dogs. But those dogs are gone; what they’re doing is opting to create a new dog in a way that requires poor treatment of a number of other dogs, all to have a new dog that looks like the old one but is not the old one.
Shelters are full of great dogs that need homes. Rather than try to relive the experience of having the departed dog, it seems healthier for both dogs and humans to start a new relationship with a new dog, who will be its own individual.
When Teddy is gone, I will have years of treasured memories. And I will miss him. But I’d rather not have a simulacrum of him who is not him running around the house. There will be some other dog out there who will win my heart and give me a whole new set of dog and human experiences and memories.