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Comments on the dilemma in the March issue: ‘Always tell the truth?’
  1. Siobhan Mullan
  1. University of Bristol

Abstract

The dilemma in the March issue considered the predicament of a vet who, during a follow-up vaginal examination, had discovered that a colleague had unknowingly caused a cow, from a good line, to abort a four-month-old conceptus. The colleague had inserted a progesterone releasing IUT and injected the cow with prostaglandin, after being called in by the farmer, who was concerned that this cow had not been seen in oestrus (IP, March 2015, vol 37, pp 150–151). Gwen Rees noted that, as the farmer had not been present during the examination, the immediate temptation might be to say nothing, but that this would contravene the declaration all vets make on admission to the RCVS to ‘pursue the work of my profession with integrity’. She suggested instead being honest and asking the farmer if he was aware that his cow had been pregnant. She also stressed the importance of having accurate records in place and of making the practice aware of the situation as soon as possible. She added that it might be wise to contact the Veterinary Defence Society in case a complaint was made.

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Siobhan Mullan is research fellow at the University of Bristol with interests in practical welfare assessment and animal ethics. She holds the RCVS diploma in animal welfare science, ethics and law.

CHOOSING to wait to speak to your colleague, when you suspect an error on their part, before admitting it to the client, appears to offer a pragmatic solution. This option gives you a chance to hear your colleague's version of events and buys a bit more time to compose yourself before a potentially difficult conversation with the farmer, while still adhering to the basic principle of telling the truth. Your client will no doubt respect this, although it may be masked by their anger at the error or the delay in disclosure.

However, there is perhaps a stronger potential downside. Will your client be forevermore thinking that there is something you're not telling them when on their farm? It would take time to rebuild that trust and it would be worth considering in advance what you would do if a second similar situation were to occur on this farm. It could potentially be a make or break decision with this farmer.

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}bva-edit.co.uk.

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