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The cloning controversy

Elysa Ng
Elysa Ng

Fifteen-year-old. Loves life sciences and literature.

Jakarta | Tue, April 17, 2018 | 10:05 am
The cloning controversy

After Barbra Streisand revealed that two of her dogs were the result of cloning, people starting questioning the ethics of the process and the aim of owning a "replacement" of a previous pet. (Shutterstock/hakandogu)

Barbara Streisand revealed in February that two of her current three Coton De Tulear dogs, Miss Violet and Miss Scarlett, are the result of successful cloning. The two dogs were cloned from her previous dog Samantha, who died at the age of 14 last year. From the mouth and stomach of the deceased Samantha, cells were taken and used to create the two new copies.

“I’m waiting for them to get older so I can see if they have her brown eyes and her seriousness,” the two-time Oscar winner said, confirming that although the dogs were identical to each other, they had different personalities from Samantha.

The announcement caused several pet lovers to gather and protest, stating that although the singer had cloned her dog, cloning would never truly replace Samantha. While Miss Violet and Miss Scarlett might look identical to Samantha, their personalities would be shaped by the environment in which they are raised and the people they are exposed to. 

“We all want our beloved dogs to live forever, but while it may sound like a good idea, cloning doesn’t achieve that. Instead, it creates a new and different dog who has only the physical characteristics of the original,” People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) said in a statement to Streisand. “Animals’ personalities, quirks and very ‘essence’ simply cannot be replicated, and when you consider that millions of wonderful adoptable dogs are languishing in animal shelters every year or dying in terrifying ways when abandoned, you realize that cloning adds to the homeless-animal population crisis. And because cloning has a high failure rate, many dogs are caged and tormented for every birth that actually occurs — so that’s not fair to them, despite the best intentions. We feel Barbra’s grief at losing her beloved dog but would also love to have talked her out of cloning.”

But what is cloning?

Cloning is defined as making an identical copy of an organism. It first gained popularity in 1990 after a famous experiment with Dolly the sheep. However, Dolly was not the first animal that was cloned—this title goes to a sea urchin that was cloned successfully in 1885. After Dolly, people became more ambitious. The first dog that was cloned was an Afghan hound named Snuppy. Then, there were cloned dogs given away as pets, husky-collie mixes named Mira and Missy Too. According to a scientific report, Mira retained 70 percent of the original personality of Missy. 

Read also: Pet cloning is not just for celebrities anymore

Scientists are now beginning to clone monkeys and hope to one day clone human embryos. Back then, human embryos were considered hard to clone because of the complexity of their stem cells.

The experiment that began with Dolly the sheep decades ago opened up a brand new set of questions and possibilities for the future ahead of us. Many people feel it is unethical and unnatural to clone something, or that it is a waste of money.

Currently, there are many companies, notably one in South Korea, that are willing to clone a pet for around US$50,000. While at first people were doubtful that cloning could be used for commercial purposes as it is highly expensive, the current pricing seems to be stable.

The Guardian commented on the Streisand dog-cloning controversy, saying it is like ‘an episode from Black Mirror’. A sci-fi anthology series on Netflix, Black Mirror explores questions of the modern world as it grapples with technology and its consequences.

People process grief in different ways. Losing a pet for some people is like losing a family member. It is hard because, whether a person likes it or not, they are most likely going to outlive their pets. Yet, sometimes we do not want to let go. 

I have had my own share of watching beloved pets die. Feeding stray cats in front of my house is like flipping a coin—there is no guarantee that they come back the next day to ask for more food. Many things could happen to them: They could be involved in accidents or another person could take them in. I once loved a cat named George Washington, but he died at a young age after ingesting rat poison. His passing affected me greatly and I did grieve for a while. But that hole closed itself eventually. Moving on does not mean that you forget your pets. 

Barbara Streisand would certainly never have Samantha back through Miss Violet and Miss Scarlett. It is not a Disney movie in which Samantha "lives on" inside of Miss Violet and Miss Scarlett. As The Guardian article described, Streisand's cloning of her dog was a real-life "tragedy". While science has certainly come quite close to bringing something to life, it will never be the same. (wng)

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Elysa Ng is a junior high school student and a passionate supporter of environmental conservation and protection. She loves wild animals, reading, writing and white chocolate, and has been writing seriously since she was 10.

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