Ethics of a copied cat

There’s a big ethical debate storming over the recent cloning of a pet cat. One line that caught my eye in this was from David Magnus, of the Center for Biomedical Ethics at Stanford: “It’s morally problematic and a little reprehensible… for $50,000, she could have provided homes for a lot of strays.”

This argument seems specious to me. For $50,000, she could also have provided homes for humans; does that also make the action reprehensible? Would it be less so had she spent it on a car? For that matter, a number of people persist in having biological children, even though there are plenty still available for adoption. Is he arguing that that’s morally problematic as well?

It seems to me that if there are ethical issues involved in this, the ones being discussed right now aren’t them – but I’m a bit surprised to see so many scientists and ethicists jumping on this bandwagon. Is it just me, or is some deep fear of “cloning” – not a fear of the actual procedure, but of something subconsciously associated therewith – taking over the discussion?

Does someone have a sense of what the actual underlying fears are?

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Published in: on December 23, 2004 at 17:53  Comments (16)  
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16 Comments

  1. And I could sell this computer for a couple of hundred bucks and feed many homless people Saturday.
    Good thing I’m not Christian.

  2. And I could sell this computer for a couple of hundred bucks and feed many homless people Saturday.
    Good thing I’m not Christian.

  3. Yep. I believe there are several interrelated fears. Of being replaced by “super humans” (ala Friday, by Heinlein). Of becoming a society of disposable human bodies, harvested for replacement limbs, organs, etc. Then, of course, the usual human resistance to anything new and not understood.

  4. Yep. I believe there are several interrelated fears. Of being replaced by “super humans” (ala Friday, by Heinlein). Of becoming a society of disposable human bodies, harvested for replacement limbs, organs, etc. Then, of course, the usual human resistance to anything new and not understood.

  5. Hmm. None of these have anything to do with cloning, though; is cloning just being feared out of a general fear of biotechnology, then?

  6. Hmm. None of these have anything to do with cloning, though; is cloning just being feared out of a general fear of biotechnology, then?

  7. Dude, both of those things sound totally fucking sweet!
    But I can see it now, the bioengineers reduced to hanging out outsidea Sav-on, with a big ol’ sign:
    CHECK IT OUT — WE MAKE COOL REPLACEMENT LIMBS AND ORGANS! FUND OUR LAB! PLEASE!
    with posters of like.. laser weapons and maybe like toothbrushes and power mixers and shit, ALL detachable, ALL interchangeable, ALL ready to be integrated with YOU, to make YOUR life that much easier and THAT much more awesome.
    THEY’RE gonna have to beg for cash, THEY’RE gonna have to beat the shit out of the Salvation Army for begging space, and THEY’RE gonna be the ones getting shafted, all cause some freaking bioethicists convinced the masses that becoming super-human just wasn’t cool..
    Except for in California, where we’ll all probably pass a proposition to give them hella funding. w00t!
    (sorry, guys.. I know this is [was] a serious discussion, but I had to say it.. plz don’t hate me if you don’t know me 🙂

  8. Dude, both of those things sound totally fucking sweet!
    But I can see it now, the bioengineers reduced to hanging out outsidea Sav-on, with a big ol’ sign:
    CHECK IT OUT — WE MAKE COOL REPLACEMENT LIMBS AND ORGANS! FUND OUR LAB! PLEASE!
    with posters of like.. laser weapons and maybe like toothbrushes and power mixers and shit, ALL detachable, ALL interchangeable, ALL ready to be integrated with YOU, to make YOUR life that much easier and THAT much more awesome.
    THEY’RE gonna have to beg for cash, THEY’RE gonna have to beat the shit out of the Salvation Army for begging space, and THEY’RE gonna be the ones getting shafted, all cause some freaking bioethicists convinced the masses that becoming super-human just wasn’t cool..
    Except for in California, where we’ll all probably pass a proposition to give them hella funding. w00t!
    (sorry, guys.. I know this is [was] a serious discussion, but I had to say it.. plz don’t hate me if you don’t know me 🙂

  9. No hate, no worries. In fact, I am highly amused. =)

  10. No hate, no worries. In fact, I am highly amused. =)

  11. Actually, they do. Most biotechnology processes incorporate cloning on some level, from DNA replication, to cellular all the way up to organism cloning.
    Wow, here’s something I feel confident enough about my own knowledge to pontificate on… kewl! ;P

  12. Actually, they do. Most biotechnology processes incorporate cloning on some level, from DNA replication, to cellular all the way up to organism cloning.
    Wow, here’s something I feel confident enough about my own knowledge to pontificate on… kewl! ;P

  13. Illusion of uniqueness?
    The way I interpret your question is “Why are so many smart people engaging in such bad arguments?”
    It seems to me an illusion of uniqueness is some fundamental aspect of the debate, not unlike the Earth being the center of the universe or Creationism.
    I haven’t heard complaints about cloning cattle, since cows are plants. Pets are our children, they are a part of us. If you can clone my child you can clone me. If I am clone I am no longer special because now there is two of me. I would LOVE to know how identical twins feel about cloning. I am sure there would still be some resistance to it but I think it would come from a different source.
    It also seems to me that the trap is the very act of asking the question. The question posed “Is this the best way to spend money on cats?” only gets asked because this new technology has arisen and is being examined. People don’t know what questions matter so a wide range of questions are being asked. The easy questions with the easy answers are just going to get talked about more. Lots of other technologies are no longer examined since our society on the whole has satisfied itself on where those technologies belongs, cars being the classic example. Not the least because society is beginning to re-examine car tech and its place in our world.( SUVs,oil,etc)
    Besides, you sound really callous saying “Yup, I am glad all those stray cats are dead. I now have my resurrected pet and that is all that matters to me!”

  14. Illusion of uniqueness?
    The way I interpret your question is “Why are so many smart people engaging in such bad arguments?”
    It seems to me an illusion of uniqueness is some fundamental aspect of the debate, not unlike the Earth being the center of the universe or Creationism.
    I haven’t heard complaints about cloning cattle, since cows are plants. Pets are our children, they are a part of us. If you can clone my child you can clone me. If I am clone I am no longer special because now there is two of me. I would LOVE to know how identical twins feel about cloning. I am sure there would still be some resistance to it but I think it would come from a different source.
    It also seems to me that the trap is the very act of asking the question. The question posed “Is this the best way to spend money on cats?” only gets asked because this new technology has arisen and is being examined. People don’t know what questions matter so a wide range of questions are being asked. The easy questions with the easy answers are just going to get talked about more. Lots of other technologies are no longer examined since our society on the whole has satisfied itself on where those technologies belongs, cars being the classic example. Not the least because society is beginning to re-examine car tech and its place in our world.( SUVs,oil,etc)
    Besides, you sound really callous saying “Yup, I am glad all those stray cats are dead. I now have my resurrected pet and that is all that matters to me!”

  15. I think we look for all sorts of excuses to oppose these things so we don’t have to address our real fears. We’re too cynical and ironic these days, so we’re embarrassed to ask questions like “does a human clone have its own individual soul?”
    Lots of the big ethical questions can only be asked in language that many of us have almost forgotten how to speak. Not everyone has forgotten it, however, which is why the anti-abortionists dominate the discussion of stem cell research.
    It’s also interesting to look back a quarter century or so at the furor over in vitro fertilization (test tube babies). Not such a big deal these days, though.

  16. I think we look for all sorts of excuses to oppose these things so we don’t have to address our real fears. We’re too cynical and ironic these days, so we’re embarrassed to ask questions like “does a human clone have its own individual soul?”
    Lots of the big ethical questions can only be asked in language that many of us have almost forgotten how to speak. Not everyone has forgotten it, however, which is why the anti-abortionists dominate the discussion of stem cell research.
    It’s also interesting to look back a quarter century or so at the furor over in vitro fertilization (test tube babies). Not such a big deal these days, though.


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