UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Stepping up to the plate : animal welfare, veterinarians, and ethical conflicts Morgan, Carol Anne


Veterinarians are often viewed as protectors of animals and veterinary organizations are quick to affirm that their member veterinarians value and promote animal welfare. Yet veterinarians sometimes appear to fail in their responsibility to promote the welfare of animals. Examples of this seemingly incongruous behaviour include conducting unnecessary medical procedures, failing to report animal abuse, or failing to mitigate pain and suffering during and/or after surgical procedures. To understand how veterinarians make decisions in situations where they are confronted with conflicting responsibilities to patients and clients, interviews with 41 veterinarians and observations of ten veterinarians practicing in Western Canada were conducted. Veterinarians in this study held diverse beliefs about what constitutes animal welfare, animal owners’ responsibilities concerning animals, and professional responsibilities within the veterinarian-client-patient relationship. They also used different methods to assess patients and clients against these belief structures. A significant finding of this research is that different veterinarians construct moral problems differently thereby creating diverse interpretations of ethically challenging situations. Participants also described providing preferential care to patients and clients who they assessed positively. Furthermore, participants voiced concerns about financial repercussions, lack of credibility in the community, and frustration with the animal protection authorities should they try to intervene on behalf of their patients. Understanding how veterinarians construct moral dilemmas, their decision-making in these situations, and the obstacles that hinder the promotion of animal welfare is important for the veterinary profession. This research underscores the importance of increased dialogue amongst members of the profession to clarify further their ethical responsibilities to clients and patients. It also highlights the need for animal protection systems that support veterinarians in their responsibilities to promote animal welfare and to mitigate animal pain and suffering.

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