Dorrit Moussaieff, former First Lady of Iceland, has announced the intent to clone her dog Sámur, RÚV reports. While this would normally pass off as a personal decision by a pet owner, the fact that her husband, former President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, chose to share this decision with listeners of the radio programme Morgunkaffið on Rás 2 has opened the subject to public discussion about what cloning means and who it is for.
Ólafur told listeners that Sámur is now eleven years old, and being in these advanced years, Dorrit decided to send a DNA sample to a company in Texas in order to clone him. Kári Stefánsson, the CEO of genetics company deCODE, clarified for RÚV what is entailed in the cloning process.
Kári explained that cloning the dog is not really the same as making an exact copy of the dog they know and love. Rather, the clone of Sámur will be more like if the original had been a monozygotic twin. It is therefore unlikely the Clone Sámur will have the exact same personality as Original Sámur.
Icelanders across social media have responded to the news with a combination of humour and confusion, Vísir reports. This tweet from Ármann Jakobsson, captioned “Old Sámur and cloned Sámur”, is one such example. (Article continues after tweet)
Gamli Sámur og klónaði Sámur: pic.twitter.com/mfpdzxfrwy
— Ármann Jakobsson (@ArmannJa) October 27, 2018
Jokes aside, there are a number of ethical questions raised by cloning one’s pet. It is clear, for example, that this service is undoubtedly one reserved for the upper class. Viagen Pets, the company which will clone Sámur, charges $50,000 for the service before sales tax.
As the Smithsonian pointed out last March, “the cloning process still requires numerous dogs to produce a single clone. Consider: Many cloned pregnancies don’t take hold in the uterus or die shortly after birth”, meaning many dogs will be produced and then ultimately put down in order to produce a viable clone.
Alexandra Horowitz, head of Columbia University’s Canine Cognition Lab, added that many people who clone their pets do not really understand what it is that they are getting, saying: “There might be some breed tendencies, and there certainly are tendencies that a genome will avail that makes a cloned dog maybe likelier than some other non-genetically similar dog to do a kind of thing. But everything that matters to us about the personality of a dog is not in those genes. Everything is in the interaction of that genome with the environment, starting from the time they’re in utero—just as with humans.”