Cloning Pork

Science fiction is becoming science fact, as we begin unraveling the mysteries of cloning and contemplate turning to cloning animals for food.

In "Cloning May Lead to Healthy Pork," Gina Kolata (The New York Times, Mar. 27, 2006) writes: "A group of university researchers said yesterday that they had created what sounds like a nutritional holy grail: cloned pigs that make their own omega-3 fatty acids, potentially leading to bacon and pork chops that might help your heart."

I don't know about grail, or about "holy." (Compare "Do Clones Have Souls" in Beyond Complementary Medicine.)

I recently had occasion to watch the amusing Disney flick "Shaggy Dog." Humorous from the perspective of understanding how a corporate lawyer's transmogrification into a shaggy canine gave him insights into his personality and family life he never had during his best jury speeches. However, there were scenes--surprisingly, for young viewers--in which the concept of a frog with a bulldog face was made to amuse. In other words, the viewer is supposed to take genetic monkeying with another species for human visual gratification as a given.

In bioethics there is a notion known as "species impartiality." It serves as a counterweight to the drumbeat, dominate, dominate, control and subdue. The ethical value of species impartiality comes into play when analyzing issues such as whether it is appropriate to perform experiments on animals (or take their organs) to save human lives.

And of course there is the slippery slope argument: how do you define life? Consciousness?

Unanswerable questions, perhaps. But turn the tables for a moment. Suppose science learns how to create memory chips so that, with the same technology used to upgrade human intelligence, we can provide that same intelligence to an animal--say, a pig. That pig then sets up a lab and wants to reconfigure human DNA so the pig can gets its omega 3's from human flesh. Doesn't sound so nice.

Of course this way of thinking will raise all sorts of uproar. "How can you compare a human being to a pig?"

I remember some wisdom from years back, I think from the Talmud, in which the question was asked whether it is ever morally justifiable to sacrifice another person's life in order to save one's own life. To which the response was: "who is to say this his or her blood is less red than yours?"

Interestingly, an etymological interpretation of "Adam" is "A" (the alpha principle) together with "dam" (the word blood in Hebrew). The blood is regarded as a soul. Hence, the response suggests that at least with human beings, all are equal, certainly in the sense of being fashioned in the divine image.

Species impartiality takes the concept further and argues that consciousness is ubiquitous--consciousness of pain, for example, or of loss, at least on some level though it may be unfathomable. Watch "March of the Penguins" (narrated by Morgan Freeman) for an understanding of ways in which one species experiences--and expresses--romance, family and loss.

At any rate, the corporate lawyer in the Disney movie got a dose of reality by being (magically) turned into a shaggy dog, and through that vantage, to appreciate his mistakes. The viewer, by following this transformation, learns compassion, both for the lawyer and for the dog. But what of compassion for the frog with the bulldog head, whose state is taken for granted, even made the butt of an endless joke?

Perhaps a Buddhist perspective would echo the notion that the frog's blood is just as red as ours. Hard to say; more to contemplate. For those who regard certain animals as "unclean" the conclusion is pre-ordained, but for those who keep pigs as pets, the seeing of pigs only as meat to be chopped marks a kind of ignorance about the nature of consciousness and the connections between divine, human and animal levels of being.