There’s no substitute for Brutus

By Clyde Davis: CNJ Columnist

The blessing and the curse of our era may be the ability of an obscure and unimportant, but bizarre, news story, to gain momentary and fleeting fame over the Internet news services.

Like the yin and the yang, like the Roman god Janus, it is a two-sided piece of reality.

Take the story I stumbled upon this week — a story that has already disappeared from the Yahoo news pages, but won its participants a momentary glimpse of fame. A California woman mortgaged her home to raise $50,000 so that she could hire a company in Seoul to clone puppies from a beloved pit bull whom she had lost two years ago. She now perceives herself as having five darling Brutuses (or whatever his name was.)

The story is interesting because it raises a number of ethical and interpersonal issues that intertwine. These are issues that address faith, individuality, and our increasingly “substitute” society.

1. The puppies will not be Brutus. Being a clone does not make them another incarnation of their cell donor. Each pup will, presumably, develop in his or her own way.

2. If the puppies were “Brutus,” how emotionally healthy is such a fixation anyway? I have had a number of dogs, and even a couple of cats. Each one was loved for whom he or she was. When the time came to part, whether through death or needing to find the animal a new home, I felt it appropriate to honor that animal for its individuality, not try to recreate it in another form.

3. The amount of money used, and the selling of one’s home, do not seem like a necessarily healthy or wise choice. Realizing that one is entitled to do as he wishes with his resources, I still wonder about the stability of such.

4. The scariest aspect of this is a tendency in our society to practice disposable relationships, whether it involves animals or humans. Apparently in this woman’s mind, if it looks like Brutus, it is Brutus. That expands to the idea growing in our society of disposable spouses, disposable friends, disposable children.

If I end a romantic relationship, is it healthy to go out looking for a biological twin of the ex?

If I surrender my custody rights to my child, is it healthy to replace that child with someone else’s?

If I have friendships and relocate, is it normal to simply replace them with another group of instant friends?

It may be the ultimate outcome of our consumer society to see pets — or other people — as so easily replaceable, based on external attributes.

The faith implications of this, whatever your place on the theological spectrum, are profound. Beyond the ethical question of cloning we have to look at the underlying question, the value and validity of individuality.

The Psalmist reminds us that we are fearfully and wonderfully made; the scripture also addresses the fact that while we were yet in our mother’s womb, God’s love embraced us. Other faith traditions have different ways, but similar concepts — the value of life, the uniqueness of each piece of creation. Many of us see these ideas as inclusive of animals, as well.

Clyde Davis is pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Portales and a
college instructor. He can be contacted at: