They are our family, but…” – Companion animals, veterinary medicine, and our own ethical dilemmas

Kat Fiedler

Traditionally, doctors take the Hippocratic Oath as an affirmation of the ethical responsibility that they have towards their patients. According to the American Medical Association, one principle of medical ethics is that “[a] physician shall, while caring for a patient, regard responsibility to the patient as paramount.” What then are the duties of veterinarians, especially given the fact that animals are viewed as property under the law and often by society? To whom do the primary responsibilities of veterinarians lie?

Several years ago, my two pet rats became new patients at a veterinary office. As a part of their new patient paperwork, I was asked to select one of a handful of boxes describing how I viewed my pets and their possible treatment at the veterinary Fiedleroffice. These options included: I consider my pet to be part of my family and I would do anything for them; I consider my pet to be part of my family, but I have financial constraints; I am only willing to pay so much to treat my pet; and so on (all of these options are paraphrased from the actual text on the form). I asked a staff member what purpose my selection would serve. She responded that the veterinarian would consider my response in recommending treatment options for my pet. In other words, this exemplified the fact that I, the pet owner, am the client of the veterinarian, not the pet as the patient.

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, one principle of veterinary medical ethics is that “[v]eterinarians Continue reading