As was mentioned a few days ago, South Korean researchers recently managed to clone a dog. Animal rights activists quickly reacted to this announcement by denouncing it as immoral.
Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine’s Neal Barnard complained that the whole process was immoral and pointless. In an op-ed for the Ft. Worth Telegram, Barnard wrote,
First, one basic moral issue: The cloning process often means operating on
hundreds of animals to extract their eggs in order to try to produce an infant.
About 90 percent of cloning attempts fail to produce viable offspring. Those
born alive often have compromised immune systems and higher rates of infection
and tumor growth. A dismaying number — perhaps about 30 percent — suffer
from “large offspring syndrome,” a debilitating condition marked by an enlarged
heart, immature lungs and other health problems.
Even if cloning were more efficient, it still would not be the scientific
path we need to pursue. Answers to the most pressing human health problems —
heart disease, cancer, diabetes, hypertension and others — lie in understanding
human cells, human genes and, in some cases, human habits.
Profound physiological differences make it very difficult to extrapolate
experimental results from any animal to a human. Trying to use animals as
“models” for humans has produced catastrophic results: The anti-inflammatory drug
Vioxx, which tested as safe in mice and rats, turned out to double the risk of
heart attack and stroke in humans.
Well, at least no one will ever accuse Barnard of letting evidence get in his way. It is interesting that Barnard mentions heart disease, cancer and diabetes — all diseases that animal research has played a key role in understanding and treating — before falsely claiming that animal models are useless.
And, of course, Barnard cannot be bothered to note that the side effects of Vioxx also did not show up in human clinical trials either for a very good reason — the increase in heart and stroke risk appears to only occur after long-term use of the drug. The real issue raised by the Vioxx problem is how to balance the tradeoffs between getting a potentially lifesaving drug to market and having thorough clinical data of the long term effects of using a drug. Perhaps Barnard would favor requiring that companies do more animal testing that lasts for longer periods of time, as that is one clear way of discovering side effects like that seen with Vioxx.
Besides, the South Korean researchers made clear that their ultimate goal was creating embryonic stem cell lines with their technology, not the production of a line of cloned dogs. Unique aspects of the canine reproductive system mean that dog cloning is unlikely to become common.
Jennifer Fearing of United Animal Nations wrote an op-ed in the San Francisco Chronicle expressing similar views to Barnard’s,
And while some see animal cloning as an opportunity — albeit grotesquely
inefficient and arguably immoral — to advance animal or human health, others
are engaged in the effort strictly as a for-profit venture to reproduce
people’s pets. The wholly unregulated company that sold the cat Little Nicky as a
clone for $50,000 in December is aggressively marketing its gene-banking
services to veterinarians and to pet lovers across the country through direct mail
and ambitious public-relations strategies. Despite having produced only a
handful of cat clones and no dogs, this company, based in Sausalito, will
happily take your $1,395 (plus $150 a year in storage fees) along with Fido’s or
Fluffy’s DNA, on the off chance you can one day afford to pay the remaining
$30,000 to order up your clone. All this while, millions of healthy and
adoptable cats and dogs die every year only because there are not enough homes.
I’ll admit to being especially fond of animals, but I don’t know any pet
lover who would willingly comply with a process that caused the pain and
suffering of hundreds of animals to clone his or her favorite pet. Once people
really understand that the odds are better than not that the clone will not act
and possibly not even look like the animal they hope to replace, most are
turned off. They’re among more than 80 percent of the American public who are
opposed to pet cloning, according to a poll commissioned by the American Anti-
Vivisection Society. Those who fall for cloning’s false promise are being
misled, blinded by the grief of losing their beloved companion, or are more
interested in vanity and novelty than they are in what it means to be a companion
in the first place.
. . .
Don’t be fooled by the cute photos. For every one of those kittens and
puppies that they bring out into the light, there are hundreds more who suffered
to make that photo op possible. The “promise” of pet cloning isn’t humane —
to either the animals or the humans involved. It is a consumer fraud and an
animal welfare atrocity.
The American Anti-Vivisection Society, which failed in its efforts to get the U.S. Department of Agriculture to regulate pet cloning firms, issued a press release that said, in part,
This experiment strongly reinforces the scientific consensus that animal cloning is consistently inefficient and results in traumatic animal suffering. According to the dog cloning study to be published in Nature August 4, 2005, multiple cloned embryos were transplanted into each of 123 dogs resulting in only three pregnancies and two live births. Of the two cloned Afghan hound male puppies, one survived; the other suffered respiratory distress and succumbed to aspiration pneumonia at three weeks of age.
In broader terms, this extremely inefficient pet cloning methodology may lead to misuse of pet cloning for profit and could seriously compromise the welfare of countless dogs. The American Anti-Vivisection Society is particularly concerned about the situation in the U.S. where pet cloning is unregulated, and the industry has been aggressively marketing pet cloning to veterinarians and potential consumers. AAVS, anticipating this event, has led a series of efforts to prohibit pet cloning and educate the public, including producing a report detailing the dangers of pet cloning, co-sponsored legislation in California to prohibit the sale of cloned pets, filing a petition with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) requesting regulation, continuing to meet with USDA, and keeping the media and consumers informed about the issue.
That legislation, also endorsed by United Animal Nations, has so far failed to make it out of committee in the California legislature.
Good grief, Snuppy. Jennifer Fearing, San Francisco Chronicle, August 10, 2005.
Is the tail wagging the dog? Neal Barnard, Ft. Worth Star Telegram, August 12, 2005.