The dilemma in the January issue questioned whether it was ethical for a practice owner to provide literature in the practice waiting room sympathetic to their own personal views on farm animal welfare issues (In Practice, January 2012, volume 34, page 54). While promoting animal welfare was admirable, the question of whether it was morally or professionally acceptable to promote personal views to clients on which animal-derived products to reject was less clear. Paul Roger commented that it was fine for practice owners to promote what they saw as beneficial practices as long as no negative pressure was put on the alternative view. In fact, they had a duty to publicise their stance, while ensuring that the information they provided was accurate and reviewed regularly. This would help to maintain the focus of the public on important animal welfare issues, leading to an improvement in standards. A possible way forward was to consider using an ethical framework to help inform views on different farming methods and to evaluate each method based on how well they applied the Five Freedoms concept.
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Siobhan Mullan works part-time in small animal practice, as well as at the University of Bristol. She holds the RCVS diploma in animal welfare science, ethics and law.
Siobhan Mullen comments: This issue raised quite a debate at the 2011 BVA Animal Welfare Foundation discussion forum. Some practitioners voiced arguments similar to those discussed by Paul Roger, favouring the use of small animal practices to provide information on farm animal welfare. However, there was also some significant opposition to this view from people who felt that it was an inappropriate use of the veterinary surgeon's position to actively promote their views.
Perhaps active promotion is the key consideration here. It's not at all uncommon to be asked one's views on all sorts of animal welfare issues, from ‘Hugh’s chickens' to animal experimentation, during the course of a small animal consultation. It would seem churlish not to provide them truthfully. Clients ask us questions precisely because we are a trusted source of knowledge on animal welfare. In a utilitarian analysis, providing the good we could do through active waiting room promotions of higher welfare products outweighed any potential harms (eg, a mistrust in our clinical judgements), then not only is it acceptable to do so but it would be our duty to do so. Providing we are all well informed, the network of veterinary surgeons across the UK could be a powerful force for improving areas of animal welfare, extending well beyond the immediate sphere of influence we have over our patients.
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. We pay a small honorarium for contributions that are published.
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, ‘Shortcomings in locum practice procedures’, was submitted by a reader and is presented and discussed by Richard Green. 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 ‘Promoting personal views in practice’, which was published in the January issue of In Practice, appears on page 111.
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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