Bioethics Blogs

Veterinarians and the best interests of animals

By Charles Foster

English law has traditionally, for most purposes, regarded animals as mere chattels. There is now animal welfare legislation which seeks to prevent or limit animal suffering, but provided that legislation is complied with, and that no other relevant laws (eg those related to public health) are broken, you are free to do what you want with your animal.

Veterinary surgeons are in an interesting position. The UK regulatory body for veterinarians, the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (‘RCVS’) publishes a Code of Professional Conduct. This provides, inter alia:

‘1.1  Veterinary surgeons must make animal health and welfare their first consideration when attending to animals.’

‘2.2  Veterinary surgeons must provide independent and impartial advice and inform a client of any conflict of interest.’ 

‘First consideration’ in 1.1 is a rather weasly formulation. Does it mean that it is the overriding consideration, trumping all others, however weighty those others might be? Or the one that veterinarians ought to consider first, before moving on to other criteria which might well prevail?

The RCVS also publishes Supporting Guidance. The relevant guidance is that relating to ‘Veterinary Care’:

‘2.2  Veterinary surgeons and veterinary nurses are personally accountable for their professional practice and must always be prepared to justify their decisions and actions.  When providing care, veterinary surgeons and veterinary nurses should: 

(c)…. make decisions on treatment regimes based first and foremost on animal health and welfare considerations, but also the needs and circumstances of the client; 

(d) recognise the need, in some cases, to balance what treatment might be necessary, appropriate or possible against the circumstances, wishes and financial considerations of the client*…..

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.