Dr. Michael W. Fox

Principles Of Veterinary Bioethics

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Commentary

The term bioethics was first used in 1971 by physician

V. R. Potter1 to link biological science with

ethics and to demonstrate how bioethics can serve as a

bridge linking disciplines such as medicine and ecology.

He was concerned that medical ethics was too narrow

in scope to deal with the complex, multidisciplinary

health issues facing the medical profession.

Bioethics has applications in many fields of human

activity, from agriculture to conservation, and from

community planning to public education.2 Veterinary

medical ethics deals with professional standards of

practice, business, and behavior and addresses the welfare

of animals, as defined by law, from the perspectives

of economics and scientific objectivity.

Veterinary bioethics has a broader scope than veterinary

medical ethics, being applied to evaluating the

treatment and care of animals, in setting optimal welfare

standards, and in determining what is best for animals

from the perspectives of medicine (disease prevention

and treatment) and ethology (behavioral and

related physiologic, psychologic, and environmental

requirements).3

Veterinary bioethics therefore serves as an ethical

compass for the use of animals in society where

humaneness has inherent moral value in the currency

of any civil society. It is based on the absolute and universal

ethic of compassion and the principle of ahimsa,

avoidance of harm or injury. The primary areas of veterinary

bioethical application are the following: animal

health and well-being; environmental health and quality

as they relate to how animals are housed and husbanded

and how animals impact the environment4; and

human interests (financial, emotional, and public

health) and responsibilities under the local, national,

and international laws, statutes, and conventions as

they pertain to the preceding areas. Bioethics also considers

the consequences of various initiatives, new

products, treatments, husbandry systems, and animal

uses; this consequentialist perspective provides the

prescience that is so often lacking in simplistic costrisk-

benefit determinations.

Advocacy for the abolition of all forms of animal

cruelty and inadequate care resulting in physical harm,

psychologic distress, and suffering can be facilitated by

putting bioethics into practice. Veterinary medical

ethics essentially mandates that the best scientific

knowledge and medical and surgical expertise be provided

to animals on their owner’s request and payment

for professional services. Veterinary bioethics has a different,

but not necessarily conflicting, mandate to evaluate

the client’s request in terms of the patient’s best

interests, when the client’s request may prolong the

animal’s suffering and the alternative of euthanasia

should be considered and when the client is unable or

unwilling to remove the animal from conditions where

stress, distress, injury, and suffering are likely to recur,

such as with most intensive systems of commercial animal

production. In the latter such instances, veterinary

medical ethics cannot effectively address these concerns

by only focusing on the best medical and scientific

approach to disease prevention and stress reduction,

especially when costs of treating animals on an

individual basis are prohibitive. Veterinary bioethics

provides a more holistic approach to this dilemma.2

The veterinary profession may or may not appear

to be unconcerned or pandering to vested interests

when bioethical considerations are not part of the decision-

making process for how animals should be treated

and disease and suffering prevented. Examples of

where the application of veterinary bioethics is called

for include nontherapeutic use of antimicrobials and

other production-enhancing drugs; the use of analgesics

to enable lame horses to be raced; and new

developments such as organ transplants for companion

animals, animal cloning, and the creation of transgenic

animals.

Veterinarians are first and foremost practical professionals,

applying the ideals as well as the science

and art of healing to their animal patients. Unlike

physicians, however, their idealism and healing practices

are profoundly influenced by two factors: the

nature of the bond between the animal and the primary

caregiver or owner and the value of the animal,

inferred by financial, emotional, and other investments.

This means that because all animals are not valued

and, therefore, not treated equally, veterinary services

and clients’ demands and expectations will vary

considerably. Hence, the best interests of animals may

not be served with any consistency by the veterinary

profession because of the inherent inconsistencies in

human-animal relationships. This is beyond the

purview of conventional veterinary medical ethics that

has, historically, been more service oriented than animal

centered. Such inconsistencies do not necessarily

mean that the central ideal of veterinary bioethics,

which is humane treatment, cannot be applied consistently

to all categories of animal valuation and use so

Principles of veterinary bioethics

Michael W. Fox, B Vet Med, PhD, DSc

From the Fox’s Pen Inc, 5913 Grass Lake Terr, Minneapolis, MN

55419.

JAVMA, Vol 229, No. 5, September 1, 2006 Views: Commentary 667

that all animals are given equally fair consideration and

are treated humanely.

Thus, regardless of the economic limitations on

the kinds and quality of service that veterinarians

provide to their animal patients and clients, the ideal

of preventing and alleviating animals’ physical pain

and psychologic suffering (that drew most caring

individuals into the profession in the first place)

does not have to be sacrificed. On the contrary, it is

part of the service and duty of the veterinary profession,

which can be allied with other disciplines such

as animal welfare science; law; ethology; and environmental,

public health, and wildlife conservation

medicine.

As a service profession to the animal industries

(such as livestock, aquaculture, horse racing, and circus

entertainment), organized veterinary medicine is

beginning to help in the adoption of various welfare

standards and also in bringing in some of the aforementioned

disciplines when appropriate. This is a necessary

evolution of interdisciplinary collaboration

because of the demands and challenges of maximizing

animals’ utility while meeting the ethical and social

responsibilities of optimizing animal health, welfare,

and overall well-being. Such evolution means applying,

where relevant, the bioethical perspective of social

progress as the sum of human, animal, and environmental

health and well-being. Examples include finding

alternatives to the nontherapeutic use of antimicrobials,

anabolic steroids, and other drugs, especially

parasiticides, in food animal production that can have

adverse environmental and public health consequences;

developing more humane methods of animal

husbandry, transportation, and slaughter; adopting

better systems of animal waste management; implementing

more sustainable agricultural practices; and

improving food safety, quality, and security.

Likewise, in the wake of substantial progress in

preventive medicine, veterinarians in companion animal

practice are addressing the dynamics of the

human-animal bond that now demand more emphasis

on client education, wellness examinations, and treatment

and prevention of behavioral and emotional

problems. Issues like routinely docking dogs’ tails and

declawing cats are concerns that call for bioethical

review rather than better analgesics. Close review of

many scenarios and case histories in veterinary practice

clearly demonstrates the relevance of bioethics in

addressing moral dilemmas and client or owner

difficulties.5

The basic bioethical principles of optimal animal

care, humane husbandry, and animal welfare are

included in the four pillars of holistic preventive medicine

for domestic animals and captive wildlife, namely

right breeding (to avoid inherited disorders); right

nutrition; provision of the right environment; and the

right understanding of animals’ physical, sociobehavioral,

and emotional needs. It is ethically consistent to

regard these four principles of human and humane

responsibility as also being fundamental animal rights

and aids in the avoidance of the moral inversion of justifying

animal suffering as an unavoidable necessity.

These principles therefore help establish a common

ground between those advocating improved animal

welfare in reaction to public opinion and those more

proactively involved in animal protection. The socalled

animal rights movement would be better termed

the animal liberation movement because the groups’

abolitionist agenda may prohibit any use of animals,

essentially overriding constructive reforms through the

voluntary adoption or legislated enforcement of animals’

basic rights. As a rational species with moral sensibility,

we have high ideals like the Golden Rule (do to

others what you would have them do to you) that we

strive to live up to. When examined from the perspective

of bioethics, extending the Golden Rule to include

the environment and all sentient beings is simply

enlightened self-interest.

As arbiters between society and animals, veterinarians

in private practice and various branches of government,

research, and teaching, as well as organized

veterinary medicine with ties to government and

industry (such as the American and British veterinary

associations) face new challenges, demands, and

responsibilities in an ever-changing world where ethics

and compassion can no longer be shortchanged by

vested interests, custom, commerce, or convenience.

Although animal exploitation, cruelty, and suffering

have been normative in most cultures for millennia,

the evolution of society toward a more enlightened,

empathetic, and compassionate regard for animals and

the natural environment—the life community—is in

process. The veterinary profession in developed and

developing countries is part of this process as an interlocutor

between human interests, animal interests, and

the greater good, rather than as a service profession

preserving the status quo of animal use where there is

documented abuse and suffering. In terms of professional

development, personal fulfillment, and the

social status of veterinarians, veterinary bioethics can

make a substantial contribution by applying the compass

of compassion to guide us and others in our work

for the benefit of animals and society.

References

1. Potter VR. Bioethics: bridge to the future. Englewood Cliffs,

NJ: Prentice Hall, 1971.

2. Fox MW. Bringing life to ethics: global bioethics for a humane

society. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2001.

3. Fox MW. Veterinary bioethics. J Am Vet Med Assoc 1996;

208:1628–1629.

4. Fox MW. Veterinary bioethics: ecoveterinary and ethnoveterinary

perspectives. Vet Res Commun 1995;19:9–15.

5. Rollin BE. An introduction to veterinary medical ethics: theory

and cases. 2nd ed. Ames, Iowa: Iowa State University Press, 2006.

Check the link below for a Dr. Fox C-Span feature concerning "Animal Testing"

Dr. Michael W. Fox on C-Span



--Video Link--

OUR ANIMAL RELATIONSHIPS: THE MOMENTS OF TRUTH PROJECT
Dr. Michael W. Fox

What right do we humans have to exploit other animals?  Where does that right come from and what are the limits if any?  What duties or obligations do we have in our relationships with our dogs, cats and other animals domesticated and wild?

          Follow and support Caroline Kraus and her Moments of Truth Project documentary film as she travels across the U.S. asking people, who variously live, work with and care for animals, these and other relevant questions.

Is there an overriding consensus and what are the reasons why people respond very differently to these questions, which in part examine our character, culture and future?

The viewing and discussion of this kind of documentary should be part of every school curriculum and will be of interest to all who work with, profit from and care for animals. Project Home Page: http://momentsoftruthproject.com/  To see the interview with Dr. Fox go to http://momentsoftruthproject.com/dr-michael-fox/