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What Are the Issues Behind Cloning Dead Pets?
Pet cloing is becoming a fashion in China, which raises a lot of questions behind it
  ·  2019-11-04  ·   Source: NO.45 NOVEMBER 7, 2019

(LI SHIGONG)

Nowadays, more and more Chinese families are keeping pets and people's attitude toward pets is changing. In the past, dogs were generally kept to guard homes. Today, however, they are increasingly seen as family members and companions.

With the living conditions and status of pets rising, when a beloved pet dies, its owner is often plunged into grief. A Chinese biotech company saw potential in this sense of loss and launched commercial pet cloning services in 2017. In August this year, it announced at a press conference in Beijing that it had cloned a cat, Garlic, on the request of a pet owner who lost the original Garlic due to an infection.

Sinogene, the biotech company, is said to charge around 250,000 yuan ($35,500) to clone a cat though it is not known how much the owner paid.

The news has become a topic for heated discussion. Some are supporting the act, arguing that for owners bereft of their pets, the cloned new pets will help to fill the vacuum. The critics of the technology say that no matter how similar the cloned pet is to the old one, they will still be different. Besides, it's an exorbitantly expensive process. Then there is another group who are concerned about safety and ethical issues.

Safety and ethics

Yu Yu (pinglun.eastday.com): It's great that China is now able to produce cloned kittens. But while the progress of clone technology is encouraging news, many of its aspects, such as safety and ethics, have to be looked into carefully.

The safety and health of both the cloned animals and owners should be stressed. So far, no authority has said whether cloned pets are absolutely safe and healthy. Besides, there are no explicit regulations or measures regarding cloned pets yet. Improving technology without regulations shows a disregard for human health and safety.

As for ethics, to clone one pet, a lot of embryos have to be produced as backups. Who will be responsible for them? It can also cause pain and harm to the cloned animals. Dolly, the first cloned sheep, had to be put to sleep when she was only 6 because she had abnormally large organs and suffered from arthritis.

So far, it is an expensive technology that ordinary families can't afford. Given these problems, the commercialization of pet cloning must be carefully designed before it goes into large-scale operation.

Xie Jun (Qianjiang Evening News): Those who don't have pets will not understand why pet owners would spend so much money on cloning an animal. They don't know how emotionally important these animals are to their owners.

At the same time, some companies are seeking to make big bucks with pet cloning services. The clone technology is helping to fill the emotional gap left by the death of pets and stimulating people's demand for cloned animals. A thriving pet market is boosting the business. The prospects of the cloning market are attracting more and more companies to this business.

However, in order to safeguard human society, the use of cloning technology on animals must be strictly reined in by the law. Any application of technology that might violate laws or challenge ethics and moral codes must be severely punished to prevent serious consequences. It's a concern that if cloned animals that have not undergone medical or scientific tests are put on the market, the ecological balance might be compromised.

We still lack a legal system on animal rights protection, so regulations must follow the commercialization of pet cloning. There must be clear rules on where the technology can be used.

Birth and death are natural phenomena. We do not oppose cloning pets within a legal framework as it may help comfort pet owners. However, when society is yet to be fully ready for commercial cloning of pets, this technology should be carefully dealt with.

Li Ge (www.thepaper.cn): Today, the cloning technology covers a vast variety of animals, like monkeys, dogs, horses, sheep and cats, and more and more companies are exploring the commercial viability of the technology.

If pet cloning begins to go commercial, then questions arise as to where the technology can be applied, and how it should be used and regulated, as it is related not only to economic interests but also involves issues in science, safety and ethics.

While the cloning companies chase lower expenditure and a higher success rate so that pet cloning can be expanded, the safety and health of cloned animals should be paid attention. These animals age faster than normal animals and risk suffering more diseases. If they enter the market en masse without scientific vetting and stringent legal regulations, they might even pose a health risk to human beings.

So with commercial pet cloning emerging, standardization and regulation of this business is urgent. Fundamentally, to clone a pet is to satisfy the emotional demand of pet owners. However, as experts have pointed out, to produce an animal that is similar to the old one requires more than the same DNA, and actually, it's impossible to get a cloned animal that is exactly the same as the old one.

Unless properly handled, science and technology can become a double-edged sword. The cloning technology has undoubtedly contributed a lot to science and medical technology. How to maximize its upside while minimizing its downside is something that we have to look into carefully.

Similar, not same

Zhang Tiankan (guancha.gmw.cn): Nowadays, pets are increasingly treated as family members, and so, if they die either due to age or accident, their owners naturally miss them very much. If their economic conditions allow it, some owners believe it's worth cloning a pet.

However, the reality is that cloned animals are unlikely to be exactly the same as the old ones. As their DNA is the same and temperament and behavior are decided by the DNA, some pet owners tend to believe that the cloned ones will be exactly the same as the old ones, even their temperament. It is then that problems will crop up because be it an animal or human being, the temperament is decided not just by genes but also by their living environment, diet and other factors.

Besides, there are the ethical issues. To clone an animal, the creators will have to create and then kill many embryos. Take cloned kitten Garlic for example. Garlic was born after 40 embryos were used for cloning and surrogacy. So it raises a big question about whether this is trampling an animal's right to life.

Mao Ziming (news.qq.com): The cloning technology created a global sensation when the first cloned sheep was born in the 1990s. Today, this sophisticated technology is no longer a mystery but has become a kind of business. Some hail it while others are worried about the risks of commercial cloning.

As animal cloning means replicating an existing breed without creating a new species, China, like many other countries, has no restrictions on pet cloning. To some extent, it is encouraged from the perspective of technological development.

The problem is, the success of cloning technology will not necessarily guarantee its successful commercialization. Also, once dogs and cats are massively cloned, the bond between humans and pets may become different from what it was in the past.

While science and technology brings benefits to us, in the process of applying it we have to be cautious to prevent thorny issues.

Copyedited by Sudeshna Sarkar

Comments to dingying@bjreview.com

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