Pharyngula

Cloning as solace

You all may recall the memorable, late Tito the wonder dog. Hank Fox has done something thought-provoking: he has frozen away some of Tito’s cells, on the chance of cloning him.

At 325 degrees below zero, the essence of Tito sleeps.

I got a call today from Genetic Savings & Clone, the company that stores tissue samples of pets, and they told me the culturing of the samples I’d sent them was successful. I now have about 10 million cells waiting for the future moment — if ever — when the technology and the money coincide to allow me to clone him.

This is a personal decision, and I wouldn’t argue one way or the other about what Hank should do; it sounds like he’s wrestled over the issues already. All I can say is what I would do if I were in his sorrowful position.

I wouldn’t even try cloning.

I disagree with his first sentence up there: the essence of Tito isn’t reducible to a few million cells or a few billion nucleotides. While the genome is an influence and a constraint—a kind of broadly defined bottle to hold the essence of a dog—the stuff we care about, that makes an animal unique and special, is a product of its history. It’s the accumulation of events and experience and memory that generates the essentials of a personality and makes each of us unique.

Even if cloning were reliable and cheap, I wouldn’t go for it. It would produce an animal that looks like Tito, and would be good and worthy as an individual in its own right, but it wouldn’t be Tito.

Hank mentions that “Even we atheists grapple with mortality, and entertain hopes.” That’s true. But I think that what we have to do, the honest part of being an atheist, is to recognize that mortality is inevitable and that things end. Grief and loss are the terrible prices we pay for living in a world that changes, and that has produced us, so briefly. The dead are gone forever, never to return, and all we can do is fight as hard as we can to delay it, rage at our inevitable failures, and eventually, reconcile ourselves to the reality.

I think Hank is still fighting when the battle has already been lost. That’s a noble effort, I suppose, but Tito is not in that dewar of liquid nitrogen, I’m sorry to say.