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Decision making
Comments on the dilemma in the February issue: ‘Violent vet’
  1. Shawn Kozlov


The dilemma in the February issue concerned a senior vet who hit a dog when it tried to bite him as he examined an infected wound (In Practice, February 2011, volume 33, pages 94–95). Junior staff looked on in horror but said nothing. Peter Fordyce commented that whether to act or ignore the incident should be considered; if one did decide to act, should any actions be taken ‘in-house’ or involve outside parties such as the owner? Employees that ‘whistle-blow’ might find future employment difficult, but failure to act might leave other patients of the practice vulnerable to physical abuse, and not involving the client in the decision-making process might expose those involved with the case to an accusation of a cover-up. A possible way forward would be to consider what action should be taken to address the moral offence caused by the assault, how other animals should be protected from such behaviour, the proportionality of the response, and the ethical issues surrounding paternalism relating to the owner's involvement in the decision-making process. The RCVS guidance provided a practical approach to resolving the issue of the assault; it did not, however, address the issue of informing the client. It was therefore wise to discuss the issue of informing the client with the RCVS beforehand, particularly if the case was not proven against the vet.

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Shawn Kozlov, Maryland, USA

The above dilemma reminded me of what I was told before entering the laboratory animal field. One of the first responsibilities of anyone in our profession is to protect the animals placed under our care. We are their advocates and it is our responsibility to report any mistreatment, abuse, or neglect, regardless of the source. A similar situation with a human doctor, a child and a nurse would be a no-brainer. I found myself in this situation when a medical doctor performing research hit a mouse that was anaesthetised on a table to kill it. I was sickened after witnessing this and immediately verified that the mouse was dead, followed by reporting the incident to the authorities. In the February issue's dilemma, I would have no problems confronting the vet and, depending on the response, the owner and the appropriate authority.

Have you faced a dilemma that you would like considered in a future instalment of Everyday Ethics? If so, e-mail a brief outline to inpractice{at}


THIS series gives readers the opportunity to consider and contribute to discussion of some of the ethical dilemmas that can arise in veterinary practice. Each month, a case scenario is presented, followed by discussion of some of the issues involved. In addition, a possible way forward is suggested; however, there is rarely a cut-and-dried answer in such cases, and readers may wish to suggest an alternative approach. This month's dilemma, ‘Principled profit-sharing?’, is presented and discussed by Glen Cousquer. Readers with comments to contribute are invited to send them as soon as possible, so that they can be considered for publication in the next issue. Discussion of the dilemma ‘Violent vet’, which was published in the February issue of In Practice, appears on page 143.

The series is being coordinated by Siobhan Mullan, of the University of Bristol. It is hoped it will provide a framework that will help practices find solutions when facing similar dilemmas.

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