God created man in His image. Are we on the verge of man making man in his own image?
The latest issue of Vanity Fair has an article on what may be the ultimate form of conspicuous consumption: cloning your dead pets, specifically dogs.
Most Americans were unaware such a thing was possible, never mind commonplace, until Barbra Streisand mentioned it in passing during an interview with Variety magazine that her two current dogs were clones of her dog Samantha, who died last year. As Streisand later explained in the New York Times, "every time I look at [the faces of Samantha's clones], I think of my Samantha . . . and smile."
Streisand isn't the only person who has cloned her dead pet. When the Vanity Fair article calls dog cloning "very big" and "very controversial," it's correct on both counts.
Take, for instance, the Sooam Biotech Research Foundation in Seoul, South Korea. In the last ten years, Sooam has produced more than 1,000 clones of deceased dogs.
As you may have guessed, dog cloning is very expensive. The cost runs from about $50,000 to $100,000 per birth and the clientele mostly reflects it: superstar divas, "Middle Eastern royalty," and the "billionaire founder of Phoenix University," to name but a few.
Sooam's founder is Hwang Woo-Suk. In 2004, he claimed to have successfully cloned a human embryo. His claim was later shown to be a "spectacular hoax," and he was sentenced to two years prison. He escaped actually serving time because the judge ruled that he "has truly repented for his crime."
Perhaps he had. What's clear is that Hwang hasn't lost any enthusiasm for cloning. While he insists that "Here in Sooam we are steadfastly against human cloning," he insists that "Animal-cloning ethics and human-cloning ethics have completely different values." He adds that "animal cloning can bring us benefits and help us contribute socially."
Many ethicists disagree. They cite the "pain and suffering" involved in producing a single canine clone, such as potentially dangerous hormone treatments and genetic abnormalities. This exceeds the suffering in natural reproduction.
Then there's the elephant in the room: human cloning. Earlier this year, scientists in China announced that they had "created two cloned monkeys," using the same technique used to create "Dolly the sheep," two decades ago.
The head researcher at Sooam told Vanity Fair that "These monkeys are very close to us genetically . . . which means you should be able to clone a human."
The head of the Stem Cell Program at Boston Children's Hospital told the Times, "We are closer to humans than we've ever been before . . . That raises questions of where we would want to go."
Assuming the technical obstacles can be overcome, the answer should be obvious: If people are willing to pay $50-100 thousand dollars to assuage their pain over losing a pet, imagine what they would be willing to pay when we're talking about family members and loved ones.
As Vanity Fair put it, "If distraught parents think a clone would resemble 85 percent of their child's appearance and personality . . . it's only a matter of time until pressure will inexorably mount to give it a shot. If there's enough demand, the market will do its best to respond."
And that's the "best-case scenario." The worst-case scenario is something akin to Kazuo Ishiguro's novel "Never Let Me Go," where clones are created to provide their "owners" with spare body parts.
If this sounds like science fiction to you, so did cloning your pets until recently.