In the Arnold Schwarzenegger thriller The Sixth Day, all the trouble starts when Arnold's typical year 2025 suburban family wants the pet dog cloned. Fluffy has tragically expired, but the local pet-cloning boutique--at the center of the mall, offering convenient financing--promises a genetic double. Arnold is reluctant. "Dat vuud be playing God," he grumbles. But his wife and daughter really, really want another Fluffy, so he goes to get the dog cloned. On the way to the pet-cloning boutique he is kidnapped by sinister corporate agents who replace him with a cloned Arnold for the sinister purpose of. oh, you don't want to know.
No longer is this just a preposterous movie: Researchers in Texas just announced the first successful cloning of an adult domestic cat. The kitty, named CC for Copy Cat, is the first feline to be cloned--and also the first example of cloning whose goal is a consumer "product." All previous cloning had been of livestock animals such as sheep and cows, with the commercial purpose being sales to ranchers and breeders. In this case, a Texas company with the excessively cute name Genetic Savings and Clone hopes within the next few years to mass-market cloning of dead family pets. (Will they do it from a boutique at the mall, just like in the Schwarzenegger movie?) To top it off, in a movie-like touch, the research even started with a $3.7 million grant from an eccentric millionaire named John Sperling, who desperately wants science to find a way to recreate his beloved, decreased collie-Siberian Husky mutt, Missy.
To many, the idea of cloning pets, since it hits close to home, may seem much more interesting than abstract discussion of cloned tissues or embryos. To biomedical firms, the cloning of animals is already much more interesting, because it represents a market that might run into the millions. Human reproductive cloning, assuming it became possible (it is not now, but there appears to be no fundamental technical barrier) would, unless the future holds some weird dystopia, always be a small market. The overwhelming majority of parents, it is safe to assume, won't want cloned children. But ranchers and farmer may buy cloned livestock by the tens of thousands. (Several firms are attempting to clone prize cows, anticipating future herds in which every cow is a prize cow.) And if cloning comes to the pet market, millions of sales may await. Arnold Schwarzenegger might have to stand in line.
Nor does the fact that CC is a clone necessarily mean she will act like Rainbow. Clones are not Xeroxes; they merely start at birth with the same DNA. Different experiences, training, and so on may cause two genetically identical cats to behave differently. That clones start off identical, and then become whatever their experiences and thoughts make them, is the principal reason why a cloned human being, should one someday be created, would in every sense be a distinct, unique person--just as each human twin is distinct and unique. Different experiences and thoughts result in different personalities.
Because cloning only makes for genetic matches--nothing can duplicate personality--potential buyers of cloned pets may find themselves disappointed that Rex II or Fifi the Second don't do the same tricks or sleep in the same place as their predecessors. Still, given that much of animal behavior comes from instinct, which is probably genetic (biologists actually have no idea "where" instinct originates, but that's a story for another day), a cloned pet will probably be fairly similar to its parent.
This suggests there will be commercial interest. Couple that with the premise in law that people can own animals and do just about anything to them so long as it isn't inhumane, and pet cloning might become a growth business. (No law restricts pet copying; for that matter, no law restricts human cloning, though most major medical research centers have said that for the moment they will refuse to do it.) Animal rights advocates might protest. But current law allows people to breed animals, train them, restrain them, kill them for food, and kill them for almost any other reason. Unless the premise of animal rights law were to change, there seems no conceptual difference between allowing cloning of pet cats and allowing artificial insemination of cows.
Next, as regards domestic pets, there is already overpopulation of nearly all pet animals in the Western nations. Why spend many thousands of dollars to create a new cat almost identical to Rainbow, when as it is, unwanted cats really similar to Rainbow are being put to sleep every day? No matter how much you loved your departed pet (I sometimes get misty for my old Irish wolfhound, Ardara, who now guards the celestial moors), wouldn't it be better for pet overpopulation if you simply got a new pet?
Plus, by bringing home a totally new pet, you might have a--how shall I put this?--new experience. The reason the first pet made you so happy was the distinctive play and love it brought into your life; shouldn't the next pet also bring the unexpected?
Perhaps for elderly or disabled or lonely people for whom a beloved pet can take on great emotional significance, it would be a kindness to be able to bring into their lives something like a replacement. Because of this, we can't say that the case against pet cloning is open-and-shut. In a similar way, the case against human cloning may not be open-and-shut, if we consider the special circumstance of the infertile couple who could not experience biological parenthood any other way.
Otherwise, I don't know about you, but I did not greet the news of the Copy Cat with a cheer. Let's hope this idea does not turn out to have 18 lives.