Blog: News attacks on ethics of veterinarians are cheap shots


But proving that judgment is not impaired by compensation from industry is virtually impossible.

The veterinary profession has endured two blistering attacks from media in the past week. The Indianapolis Star and Reuters have both accused veterinarians of being overly cozy with pharmaceutical manufacturers and imply that their judgment is impaired as a result. What do we make of this, and how should veterinary medicine respond?

When an entire profession's motives are attacked as self-serving or purely profit-driven, it's virtually impossible to disprove the negative. It's truly a “guilty until proven innocent” game. If your premise is that a consulting or speaking payment to a veterinarian under any circumstance guarantees that that veterinarian's independent judgment is co-opted, then how do you prove the contrary-namely, that all of the years of study, sacrifice and practice actually demand independent judgment?

The basis for these media organizations' argument is that while it's valuable for veterinarians to provide insights to pharmaceutical manufacturers since they work with the products on the front line, veterinarians should donate their time and expertise and not be compensated. Where is the fairness in this model? How do we motivate veterinarians to get involved if their contribution is to be valued at zero dollars? Does the mere presence of compensation for professional expertise automatically disqualify the independence of the provider?

The problem is that you could devote a lifetime to disproving the negative, just as a reporter could devote weeks and months to studying an individual veterinarian's practice, to really determine if independence has been compromised. But what journalist will take up that challenge? It's far easier to lob charges over the transom, then move on to the next story.

What's even more flawed about these articles is this: Of all health professionals, veterinarians study the longest for the fewest economic rewards-the proof is incontrovertible. Undergraduates choose veterinary medicine, satisfying requirements identical to those of pre-med and pre-dental programs, not because of future salaries or financial returns. Yet that is the underpinning of both stories. Disappointing.

Mark Cushing, JD, is founding partner of the Animal Policy Group, providing government relations and strategic services for various animal health, veterinary and educational interests. He maintains offices in Portland, Ore., and Washington, D.C., and is a frequent speaker at veterinary conferences.

The Veterinary Policy Notes blog on helps veterinarians and other animal health professionals keep abreast of the growing number of issues, political challenges and regulatory initiatives affecting the veterinary profession, animal health industry and animal welfare movement. The views and opinions presented are those of the author.

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