by Irene Ginsberg
By now we've all heard about the latest technological "gift" to be bestowed upon humanity: cloning. No longer can the scenarios of films such as Logan's Run, Multiplicity and The Clone Master be dismissed as mere science fiction. The technology that produced the celebrated sheep Dolly is very likely to be used someday on human cells, a possibility that seems to upset a lot of people. But what about the animals?
Dr. Ian Wilmut, the researcher at the Roslin Institute in Scotland with the dubious honor of having opened this Pandora's box, told the press that he finds the idea of using his technique to clone humans "unacceptable" and "offensive." He did not, however, express any reservations about cloning animals. It's not surprising, when you consider that Pharmaceutical Proteins Limited (PPL), a company sponsoring Roslin's work, does nothing else but figure out ways to harvest animals' bodies to serve humans. The company's interest in this enterprise is far from benevolent humanitarianism, however. Millions of dollars stand to be made. Why else did Roslin not announce to the world its discovery until Dolly was seven months old? It was awaiting approval of a patent to protect future profits for PPL.
Industrial tool of greed, animal suffering
In the search for big profits, cloning is tied together with genetic engineering. Scientists are already introducing foreign genes to their subjects' DNA, or deleting existing ones, with the goal of manufacturing animals better suited to human wants. The "promise" of cloning is that once a particularly desirable animal is created, it will be easily duplicated. PPL's immediate aim is to develop animals capable of producing pharmacologically useful proteins, "making the animals into living drug factories," as The New York Times put it--without further comment. Additional moneymakers for cloning enterprises will probably include cattle engineered to yield extra beef or super quantities of milk; woollier sheep; lab animals programmed with human diseases, such as cystic fibrosis, for researchers' convenience; and other animals with organs ready-made to be transplanted into humans--all mass-produced to order.
Even as the media were cheering these commercial and medical applications, a number of troubling questions seemed to hang in the air: Would a clone age normally? Would it be able to breed? Would the products from clones have side effects on human consumers?Some observers noted that the proliferation of cloned animals could have unforeseen consequences on the delicate balance of ecosystems, and that the genetic diversity of animals could plummet as people pursue an arbitrary notion of the "perfect specimen." The result? A single virus to which the original cloned animal was susceptible could wipe out an entire animal community.
But the worst casualty of the advent of cloning is one the media missed almost entirely--something The Economist referred to as the "individual dignity of the animal," a quaint notion these days. Dr. Keith Campbell, another researcher at Roslin, said that the institute is "only accelerating what breeders have been doing for years." And in that, he was surely on to something. Cloning, combined with genetic engineering, promises to take the indignities inflicted on animals to an even greater depth. Any semblance of compassion for animals is certain to be lost in the frenzied effort to turn them into consumer-driven manufactured goods.
And that is why we can't allow self-anointed ethicists to go unchallenged as they wring their hands over the prospect of human cloning, monopolizing media coverage with their own limited perspectives. We must insist that our vegetarian/animal-protection voices be heard on this issue, loud and clear.