Vet Care In The 21st Century
Vets play a crucial role in the health of our companion animals (not to mention farmed animals), and though it’s likely that none of us take vets’ work for granted, it is easy to forget that veterinary practice has a history that is not static. In the same way that vet policies and protocols have changed over the years, so has the focus of veterinary ethics: in the last 20th century, the focus of vet ethics shifted away from a focus on collegiality within the profession, standards of education, advertising policy, and towards “the ethical dimensions of veterinary clinical practice and the interests of animals as patients in that context.” In other words, now more than ever, there is an emphasis on the animals’ experience. Of course, in practice animal patients are not treated with the same level of care as human patients, and like human patients, their care can be quite inconsistent.
The purpose of this was to “put the focus of ethical relevance on the animal and its interest as a patient means to centre veterinary ethical research on the animal.” The paper is largely philosophical in its approach, looking at questions such as: what it means to be “sick”; how an animal becomes a “patient” and the subjectivity of that position; how the theoretical view of animals has changed over time; how vets shape the view of “normal” animal health. Of the main overarching themes, the one that is likely most relevant to advocates is the fact that veterinary ethics is a constantly changing landscape, with different emphases at different times. In that sense, it is open to outside forces, including those of well meaning advocates.
For animal advocates, studies like this provide a broad view of veterinary practice, and give insight into some of the ways that vets need to – for better or worse – navigate their profession. Though there are many practical applications for ethics on the part of vets, for advocates this information may serve best to inform them, and help them to push their vet in more ethical directions.