“You can’t stop progress!” — Bateman, 1930
I guess that’s true. When I first saw the movie The 6th Day I remember leaving the theater in horror as the realization that one day the premise of the fictitious company RePet would come true. The premise in the movie was that if your childhood pet was nearing the end of his or her life, your parents could take them into RePet where geneticists would create a young and healthy clone of the dying animal. It seemed pretty sick and disturbing to me back then, and pretty much nothing has changed since.
Today as I was reading, I came across articles from a couple of commercial companies that are offering exactly that service. Back in 2004, a company called Genetic Savings and Clone accepted $50,000 each from four clients who wanted to have their cats cloned. Back then they were predicting that they would be able to clone a dog before the end of the year. It actually took another company until this year to accomplish that feat when they created Snuppy, the world’s first successfully cloned dog. Now RNL Bio are offering a commercial pet cloning service for $175,000. The money is payable upon receipt of the cloned pet.
While I understand the first instinct that might make such a service appealing to people, that knee-jerk emotional reaction experienced when considering that your beloved pet may die, I do not understand those who would wish to engage an actual service to clone that same pet. I have had pets my whole life and wholeheartedly understand the sense of loss and accompanying pain when little Fluffy leaves this world. Meaghan and I have a 16 year-old cat who we both accept cannot live forever. We had to put his life-long companion down earlier last year and it was as painful to let go of Peaches as with any other companion and friend I’ve lost. However, it is also a crucial part of the love and bond that we have with the pets that are still with us. We know that Ebony is getting old and even that Dougal and Lucy will not live for as long as we do. That lack of permanence is what makes you appreciate the time you do enjoy with your pets, indeed with any living being. If that were taken away, if the pet could be reborn or cloned at any time, would that not drastically affect the relationship that we have with our furry companions? When they got sick and needed to be taken to the vet, would you not be weighing up whether the cost of the treatment to keep them alive for a few more years would be worth it as compared to the cost of just starting them over again as a kitten? Furthermore, would a clone of your pet not take away from the moments and memories you have with the real thing?
I would feel like I was cheating on our kitties with the worst of doppelgangers. I can’t imagine anything more depersonalizing than a clone of you running around, eating your food, and making new memories with your beloved owner and friend; memories that should have been reserved for that original life, that original pet. I’m sure that for some the prospect of permanence and the reassurance that they will never be parted from their companion is a blessing. I’m sure that in their hearts they feel that they are doing the right thing and avoiding the heartache of loss that none of us wishes to feel. However, I think in doing that we would dilute the very emotional connection that makes us love our pets and treat them like family. After all, their DNA is on record at “Pop It and Swap It” down the road, so if we take a little less care and lose poor old Fluffy early then there isn’t really anything to worry about, right?
Indeed you can’t stop progress. This is something that will happen and, like anything, will become more commonplace as the cost of the procedure decreases and subsequently the availability to a wider market increases. The only question I pose is whether we will stop when it comes to replacing a lost partner. I’m sure that many feel love was stolen from them through tragedies and that many would love nothing more than the chance to bring that lost love back to life. When science reaches the heights of human cloning, and it will, there will be some questions to ask that touch on the most fundamental tenets of our existence.