Saturday, December 25, 2004

Cloning cats for christmas

BBC had a story the other day about a women who paid US$50,000 to clone her beloved (and departed) cat. My instant reaction is that anyone spending money expecting to get a "duplicate" of a beloved pet is a complete fool - cloning just doesn't work like that. Sure, you get a genetically identical copy of the donor, but genetic identity is not personal identity. Identical twins prove that decisively, but people insist on seeing clones as being somehow an extension of the donor, rather than what they actually are: a differently aged twin.

(To their credit, the company involved, Genetic Savings and Clone, are reasonably clear on this. The only deception here is self-deception on the part of the customers.)

You can call cloning a pet a colossal act of vanity, and argue that there are far better things to be spending the money on (providing homes for homeless pets, for example), but it does serve a real purpose. The biggest problem with cloning at the moment is that it doesn't work very well; most cloned embryos spontaneously abort, and those that survive to full-term are often sickly and short-lived. According to GS&C's Ethical FAQ,

Twenty-five percent of all animals born through cloning using current technology have suffered some kind of cloning-related health problem, ranging from mild to terminal

That's not the sort of failure rate we can accept with cloning humans, but cloning mammals like cats, cows and sheep will allow us to iron out these bugs and reduce the risks of cloning people in the future.