I think we have a moral responsibility to work out how to cause male cats to have smooth rather than barbed penises. The tip of a cat penis looks like this:
Horrifying, right? Nature loves pulling tricks like this. Most of the time, I’m sure, we should leave things alone and let the natural course of things unfold in its own awful way. But we have a special relationship with domestic animals, in that we are the main force which has shaped their evolution over the last 10,000 or so years. We’ve been actively shaping their bodies for a long time now, mostly for our own amusement.
I propose that intimate relationship gives us an extra level of moral responsibility in this case. We’re the ones who tamed cats, selected them for being gentle and sensitive animals. We stuffed them with our values and perspectives. But we’re letting this part of their lives be as indifferently brutal as it has ever been. That was beyond our power to control for a really long time, but the time is very near where we’ll have choices to make.
In most cases, I think the case against genetically modifying the germline of a species is very good. But with cats and dogs especially, we can’t pretend that we’re not already making decisions:
This is not, I strongly suspect, how this cat’s ancestors looked 10,000 years ago. So we’ve already made decisions on their behalf. I think even cat breeders would agree, we have an ethical responsibility to not let their germ line get too weird, or too dysfunctional. But why should that responsibility stop when it comes to things that pre-date our influence? Assuming we develop a safe and reliable way to do so, I think we’re actually obliged to help cats reproduce in kinder and gentler way.