Man's Best Friend... Again

I often wander into complex threaded discussions in places like Newsvine but feel completely overwhelmed by the number of comments that scream out for replies, but daunted by the amount of time necessary to reply individually to each one.

This story about a couple that paid $155,000 in an auction to clone their dead dog spawned a conversation that covered a wide range of topics, although a number of recurring themes arose.

"I sure can think of a lot of things I could do with a $155,000, and cloning my pet is not one of them!"

Many of the users claimed that it was bad to spend this amount of money on cloning a dead pet because the money could be better spent on other things, mostly charitable works. Some were very specific and pointed out that if one was interested in giving a home to an animal, there are many animals scheduled for euthanization that could be saved for that amount of money, or even better still, clinics that could perform spaying/neutering operations on animals to prevent the birth of unwanted animals.

Whether this is valid or not depends primarily on the context of the criticism, and in nearly all of the posts, the context was missing. One author supplied it, pointing out that nobody was advocating a law to prevent this couple from having done this, or from legally exploiting their own property (in this case, cash) for a legal purpose (in this case, cloning their pet). Rather the intent was simply to point out that a more positive and socially responsible act might have been to use the money for something else, something beneficial for a wider range of individuals than themselves and their dead pet.

While this is laudable, actually I wonder if that commenter is right: at least some of the comments I think were advocating some kind of restriction, or at best suggesting that there was something morally reprehensible about what they had done.

Not always doing the best, most right thing, does not make the thing which is done wrong or evil. These things are a continuum, not a dichotomy. As others pointed out, had this couple purchased an expensive car or other consumer item, not only would they not have been criticized, but the story would not have existed, as it would not have been notable.

Nobody has any right to tell anyone what they can and can't do with their money.

Of course, Newsvine wouldn't be a site full of Americans without an appeal to the ultimate authority-- not god, of course, he doesn't exist-- but property rights. The problem with this argument isn't that is not sound, because it is-- it's just that it is not as safe an opinion to hold now than it was in previous, more affluent times. The deflection of this, of course, is that nobody is trying to say what they can or cannot do with the money, they're just exercising their own right to express their opinion that it'd be nice if they had done something else with it. The problem is, most of them aren't being nice or polite about it.

As it turns out, some of them ARE suggesting that it shouldn't be allowed-- that it should be illegal on the basis that it's immoral. Of course, they are using their own personal morality as the yardstick for what should be considered illegal for everybody.

Correct me if I am wrong, but if the original dog had cancer, isn't the clone likely to get cancer, too, as he has the same genes?

Besides that, the clone most likely has not the same personality as the dog who died. Personality is influenced by the genes as well as the environment."

Oddly enough I did not have to include two separate comments to get this self-contradiction, as one writer was kind enough to provide it for me ready-made. It seems to be a common misconception that while genetics completely determines all biological factors (genes lead inevitably to cancer) other factors that are not commonly described as biological, such as personality, are entirely ascribed to environment.

This is false. The causes of many kinds of cancer are not fully understood, and while it might be generally true that for certain kinds of cancer there are varying levels of hereditary susceptibility, the fact that cancer-causing chemicals exist indicate that environment also plays a factor. Without more information on this particular dog's case I don't think we can say, but it seems entirely within the realm of possibility to say that just because the original dog died of cancer does not mean that the clone will, and that taking a dog from another source is certainly no guarantee that this other dog would not get cancer.

In other words, unless the particular cancer involved can be shown statistically to have hereditary risk factors that trump everything else, including environmental factors and diet, this is probably not a necessary element in the decision to clone the dog or not. Probably more valid factors would include the general health problems experienced by many cloned animals.

Next, the personality of the dog. Why third parties believe they are a better judge of whether this cloned dog would be "the same" or not, compared to the owners, I don't really know. I'm also not sure it's relevant. Perhaps the implication is that the cloners have somehow tricked the gullible owners into thinking this will be the "same dog" (whatever that means) and that they are only going to be disappointed. Certainly there is a strong bias on the part of the owners to see similarities, but that hardly means that such similarities do not exist. Identical twins among humans certainly show marked similarities, and some of those similarities exist in separated twins who have different environments and no exposure to one another.

I think here the genetic influence on general health is being overestimated and the impact on personality being underestimated. Why it should affect one more than the other I'm not really sure, especially given that presumably a greater portion of a dog's personality would be influenced by genetics, as compared to a human, simply given the wider variety of behaviors humans are capable of learning and performing compared to a dog. This in no way demeans the dog. Neither humans nor dogs are born with a genetically programmed, innate ability to drive a car, but vast numbers of the former are able to learn the behavior while most of the latter never do. It is reasonable to assume, then, that the influence of the environment on the latter's behavior is greater than on the former's. So if separated identical twins in different environments can still end up being pretty darn similar, who is to say that, within the range of behaviors that can be exhibited by a dog, the cloned dog (living with the same family as the original, in the same house as the original, surrounded even by the same other pets as the original) might not be nearly indistinguishable from the original in most important respects? And even if it didn't... so what? I think the owners new they were not reanimating their dead dog. They just liked the dog so much they wanted another just like it-- beyond just getting another individual of the same breed. If I own a Honda Civic and I like it, when it finally outlives its usefulness I might just want another Honda Civic-- not just another small/midsize Japanese sedan, not just another Honda, but another Civic. Maybe the same color, even.

"Seriously, that is alot of money, and they have no proof that this is a direct clone from their own dog. It could be just a pound puppie."

Although the process (and the individual) is controversial I do not think there is any basis for seriously doubting that Dr. Hwang S Woo-Suk was and is capable of cloning a dog. There may be good reason for suspecting the animal will one day experience health problems relating to its nature as a clone, but it is not the first animal Woo-Suk has cloned, nor will it be the last.

That said, I will say that as a bereaved pet parent myself, my first thought was: Oh, great. Another pet owner who doesn't get that their pet is irreplaceable.

I find it curious that someone who believes that their pets are irreplaceable believes this is a universal constant and somehow applies to other people. I might consider my car or my computer "irreplaceable" in the sense that a replacement, even an identical one, does not "make whole" the loss of it. Clearly part of this opinion is due to the fact that unlike cars or computers, animals are not inanimate objects. Certainly in that sense a pet is less "replaceable" than any consumer good.

However, there is a false assumption here, that being that cloning is perceived as providing a replacement. In some sense, any dog that fills the place in the owners' home left vacant by the dead dog is a "replacement". Another dog, or a dog of the same breed, is no more a "replacement" for the dead dog than a clone is. Neither is it any less. The question then becomes one of a cost/benefit analysis, which routes back to the argument about wasted money and property rights.

This is going to get really sticky when human cloning becomes both possible and practical, which I think it inevitably will. Parents will inevitably want to clone children lost to disease or accident, and if they are able to afford it will not want to be legally prevented. People may choose to clone themselves instead of procreating in the traditional manner. They may want to provide for the replacement of a spouse in the case of untimely death-- or perhaps provide for both parties to be cloned. Perhaps an elderly couple will choose to wait until one dies of natural causes, then euthanize the surviving partner and have both reborn as clones, taken care of by a trust fund, and informed at the age of consent about the other's existence, providing a uniquely modern angle on the age-old tradition of arranged marriage, although in this case it would be, in some strange sense, self-arranged. (Presumably the two new individuals would still be as free as anyone to live their lives, regardless of the intentions or desires of their "parents" or the administrators of the trust, and raising them together as siblings I think seems a bit creepy and borders on seeming like incest of a particularly weird variety, but nevermind.)

I love my dogs more than anything and I would never clone them! there are millions of homeless dogs that are going to be EUTHANIZED because of stupid people like them. I hope thier dog attacks them or breaks one of their hips becuase they didnt give another animal that was going to be killed a chance.

This is just a variation on theme, but it is worth out pointing a couple of the logical fallacies.

One is that the writer attempts to associate himself with the dog owners (I love my dogs, too) and then criticizes the behavior (I would never clone them) to arrive at the compound statement, "People who love dogs would never clone them."

The problem of course is that the set of people who would not clone dogs in this case contains only the author, and not therefore also does not include all people who love dogs. There is no conclusion that can logically drawn from the assumptions: 1) The owner cloned his dog 2) I love my dog 3) I would not clone my dog. The conclusions they want to draw would be 4) Dog lovers do not clone dogs, 5) The owner did not love his dog, and 6) Dog owners who love their dogs should not clone them. However none of these are logically valid because the only connection between 2) and 3) is mere association: a single person who professes to love their dogs, but do not desire to clone them.

Not stopping there, the author then assigns blame for the homeless dogs who are euthanized. Presumably these dogs belong neither to the owner nor the author, but responsibility is presumed on the part of the former, and not the latter, due to the former's ability to afford taking care of these dogs. The author is drawing from somewhere the conclusion that since the owner has the ability to afford such a thing (taking care of a dog or dogs) and that a need exists (dogs who have no homes and are scheduled for euthanization) that a corresponding responsibility exists between the two items.

While it is hard to argue with the idea that in principle it is bad for dogs (or indeed people!) to be homeless and die due to lack of resources to keep them alive, the US does not currently have a political system that makes it the absolute responsibility of those who have the means to provide for all of those who do not. It is not plain what such a system would even look like, especially since there is always a better priority. Euthanized dogs? What about jobless Americans? Homeless Americans? Poor Mexicans who want to come to the US? Starving Africans? Where does it end? Why aren't we just sending police out in the streets to collect cash from all the wallets and sending it to OXFAM? Because personal choice still has to be involved.

They worked for it, it's theirs. When charity becomes an obligation, it's no longer charity.

I include this here because it nicely addresses the previous point. While it is certainly laudable to help others, completely removing the element of choice lessens the good of the act somehow.

But overall I don't care how they waste their money. What really concerns me is what will come next...will we try to clone dead children? Parents? Grandparents? Politicians? I think we're dabbling in places we have no business.

We're getting there. At least this person is thinking ahead to moral quandaries that are more challenging (and more interesting) than whether to adopt from the dog pound or clone old Rover. However... places we have no business? Who says? What's the difference between cloning a beloved family pet and the hundreds of years of deliberate domestication and breeding that turned the common wolf into man's best friend-- even incarnations of man's best friend that can't breathe properly and have legs so short they can barely walk? Why is one cute, and the other is dabbling in places we have no business? Who determines what are business is if not us?

Of course what is meant there is all too clear. It's coming... wait for it...

I'm certain that all of the 2,000,000+ people who lost their jobs in 2008 are absolutely thrilled that the Otto's were able to buy a dead dog for only $155,000.

Slight detour. Actually, they bought a live dog that just happens to have the same DNA as a dead dog, but thanks for playing. And of course it goes without saying that the validity of anyone's individual actions is determined entirely by the opinion of other people who are currently experiencing financial difficulties.

This is ridiculous and should be against the law! They are obviously completely ignorant to the pet overpopulation problem or just the most selfish people ever! That money could have been used to save thousands of other dogs or children for that matter! People like this make me wonder about humanity! All I have to say is that if they want to redeem themselves they should be donating the same amount of money to some sort of spay/neuter program or a rescue/shelter group! WOW, I am disgusted!

Hmm, so much for the idea that no one was advocating that this be illegalized. Turns out someone was-- someone who wants to legislate morality. And like everyone who wants to legislate morality, of course it's their own morality that they want legislated. Because someone would have to be a fool to have the wrong morality, right?

"There are hundreds of dogs being killed every day. Please adopt one!"

The limitations placed on personal choice I find curious. I'm not a dog owner. I don't like dogs. I doubt there's a single person in this thread who would suggest that I am morally obligated to take even one dog into my house simply because I could afford to do so, because there are dogs in need of a home.

However, anyone who does like dogs, and has one or more dogs in their home, is somehow obligated or expected to get their dogs from the supply of dogs discarded by others, rather than from another source.

Or is it only because this "other source" in this case is deemed unnatural? If these were dog breeders, talking about how they were going to keep the last puppy of their dear old dead dog's last litter, would there be any vitriol? I doubt it. Why is dog breeding in that case less natural than dog cloning, merely because the procedures involved are different? Both bring new dogs into the world rather than saving those that are already here-- and yet one method is held up to criticism and the other largely ignored.

I'm slightly more sensitive to this argument when it applies to couples who spend lavishly on fertility treatments rather than adopting a human child who needs a home, but I don't go so far as to suggest that such people are morally obligated to adopt, or that fertility medicine is wrong. These people might be a little selfish, but that's as far as I go. Then again, I also might tend to value people a little bit higher than dogs, but I have to admit that's just speciesism. I also like cats.

This is what has happened in the U.S. and beyond...gone to the DOGS - literally!!  I lost my job, husbands pay has been cut and we are barely making it week to week.  Yet people like this spend an enormous amount of money on a d-o-g!????????  What I wouldn't do for a portion of that kind of money. 

Like what... sit? Shake? Roll over? Play dead?

Sorry, couldn't resist. That response seemed pretty silly to me; again it's built on the presumption that those who have owe something to those who don't, especially if those who have are deemed to have excess.

When did Marxism get so popular in the US? Where were all these people when I was in university, and why didn't they agree with me then?

To be honest the financial crisis is putting me off progressive economic policies, mostly because of all the bandwagon-jumpers. People are all for redistributing wealth when they haven't got two pennies to rub together and they feel they are surrounded by the undeserving, entitled rich, and people who sell their expensive jewelry to clone the family dog seem to fit the bill.

When things get better these same people are going to jump right back into the "what's mine is mine" camp and we'll have another generation of people denying that they get any benefits whatsoever from civil society, a generation of people who "pulled themselves up from their own bootstraps" and therefore don't owe anybody anything. It's hilarious.

That's the second time I use that phrase this week. I promise I'll stop.

People first. As someone said it's their money, and that's right. But, if you're spending $150K on pets there should be some equal effort to help people. Because you take in homeless puppies, but have no problem walking past a destitute person without blinking an eye, doesn't make you a kinder person.

People first? Says who? I'm going to charge bias here, I think the speaker is a person.

Equal effort? What is this, matching funds? I think we have methods in place to provide for the common good, based on how successful you are. It's the graduated income tax. I'm fine with it. I believe in it. I think it needs tweaking from time to time-- frankly I wouldn't mind at all if it got a lot steeper up near the top-- steep enough to form a salary cap, like the pro sports leagues have. Presumably if we did that we'd have enough resources for the homeless people and perhaps even the homeless dogs, and if after paying their taxes the owners of this dog want to have their dog cloned and can afford it, then where's the harm in it?

Two comments, one after the other:

Their dog. Their money. Their business. What's the problem?

And the response:

Their money? Their dog? Their business? Not necessarily. This is a very typical American mindset.

Let's go down the list. How is "their dog" an "American mindset" unless one is suggesting that other cultures have different ideas of what pet ownership constitutes? Or maybe this is an animal rights activist who thinks dogs own themselves? Even if they did, who is to say the dog wouldn't want to be cloned? Wouldn't you, given the chance? Isn't the choice to sexually reproduce a product of the same urge that leads to the desire to clone-- the desire to leave a part of one's self behind?

How is "their money" an "American mindset"? Unless you're talking about wholesale economic reform, in which case what these people choose to spend their money on isn't the issue, it's a question of the source of their income and their tax rate. I certainly hope we're not getting to the point where certain funds in one's possession somehow become taxable, become state property, just because one is contemplating doing something with it that the state, or the public, think is frivolous. Who is supposed to arbitrate that?

Once you concede "their money" and "their dog" then the conclusion "their business" (given the legality of the cloning itself in this case-- which was performed outside the US) follows inevitably.

A bit too much when people are starving and losing their homes. How many mouths would 155,000 feed?

Depends on what they eat. What's cake going for these days?

Sorry, couldn't resist another detour.

Again... objection as to relevance.

"Just because you can doesn't mean that you should."

That applies to passing judgment as well. Zing!

What about the surrogate mother?
Who was there to console the poor dog when her puppy was taken from her?

You're kidding, right? Don't you think the puppy was weaned before it was taken to the US from South Korea? Are domestic dogs pack animals that remain in static, extended family groups?

Does anybody inquire as to who is consoling the family dogs who have puppies, and then the owners cruelly and thoughtlessly give those puppies away to neighborhood kids because they don't want a houseful of dogs?

No, didn't think so.

Again, this situation is being held up to absurd scrutiny for no reason other than the fact that the method and circumstances of this dog's birth differs from the average.

dog is abosultely beautiful but cloning is just not right. were will it stop ?  cloning children, discarding loved ones. not really ethical. besides there's only one of each of us. we are unique. just go and get another unique dog

This I find curious-- a pseudo-religious, pseudo-scientific reverence for "uniqueness" which seems to have found its way into public thought as part of their understanding of genetics. This dog is a clone, and therefore not unique. This dog is not the same, because environment is important, and therefore IS unique. Being unique is good and being a clone is bad, but being an identical twin is still being unique and good (although somehow being a clone isn't). The distinction here again is merely the circumstances-- twin births are rare but natural, but cloning is unnatural. What about multiple births due to fertility drugs? Natural? Unnatural?

Get another unique dog? Why, particularly? Is the value of a pet somehow inherently tied to its genetic diversity? From the degree to which its genes differ from the genes of the previous dog? Does that mean that to clone the dead pet is bad, to get a similar dog from a shelter is good, but that to get a dog from a shelter of an entirely different breed is even better, because that dog's genes would differ more from the original than another dog of the same breed, and therefore be "more unique"?

What about breeds of animals like cheetahs that, for various reasons, have very limited genetic diversity. Are these individuals less unique? Some species (not mammals, admittedly) reproduce asexually, and each generation is a succession of clones of the individuals in the previous. Are these individuals less unique? What if there was a species of dog that reproduced that way, would those animals also be considered non-unique, and therefore somehow of lesser value?

Same genes as the old dog! I would love to MSNBC do a follow up article on this and find out that this Dog has cancer!

I picked this one out for the morbid extension of the "same genes, will die of cancer" argument because this person seems to take positive glee in the idea of the dog dying in order to punish the owners. Certainly the welfare of the dog doesn't seem to be in their minds.

What if that person's parents had decided to abort him because a genetic screen showed he was likely to get cancer? Would that be all right?

"Nature intends mammals to be unique, and environment reinforces that This dog may be a genetic clone, but environment will make this dog similar to, but not exactly like, the original."

Another spin on the "unique" angle. Nature "intends"? When did it say so to you, and where? Can I get an interview with "nature"? I have some questions I'd like answered. Most of which don't involve cloned dogs, I have to admit.

"Well bud how would you feel if you died a horrible death at the hands of cancer and we cloned you so your second self got to die of cancer and we pop out a third of you to die painfully."

How would you feel if it was the norm for everyone to get cloned after they died, but you couldn't be, since you died of cancer?

Why is this even news?

I think this person got lost on the way to Slashdot. If the next post is a car analogy I'll know for sure.

You can clone the physical body but not the soul

So? Unless the cloners somehow convinced the owners that they could "clone a soul", I don't see the problem here.

Getting warmer...

the admonition against cruelty to animals is rank hipocracy when so many humans die the most insufferable deaths each day all over the world because of a simple lack of food, clean water, and basic health care.

Leave the horses out of it.

And the hippos, too, for that matter.

Okay, that was cheap, no more diversions, I promise.

Also I must assume that your not a christian. Was their a plan for this dog? Did god want this dog in heaven and now a scientist in South Korea has doomed us all because god is now angry?

And there we have it. I was surprised it took that long. If the appeal to Mom, apple pie, and the American way fails, if the appeal to the revulsion many people feel to the strange and the odd fails, if the appeal to help the starving, huddled children (won't somebody PLEASE think of the children) fails, then you drag God into it.

There is no evidence God is angry about cloning this animal or any other animal. There is no evidence that this dog or any dog has gone to heaven. There is no evidence that any person has, either. This is because there is no evidence that heaven exists. Neither is there any evidence that a god exists. If god did exist, he wouldn't necessarily have to be a christian god, and maybe he'd love dogs (and people) just as much regardless of the circumstances of their birth.

Plan for this dog? Most people don't have one, and many were conceived without any, why should the dog be any different? The only plan this dog needs is that of its owners, and I'd say their investment in him seems to suggest they've got one.

That's it, I'm done with the poor dog. Best of luck to him.