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An Interview with Bernard E. Rollin
This bioethicist and philosophy professor is on a mission to improve the lives of all animals and emphasizes communication as key in this process. "People skills can make the difference between life and death for an animal."
Bernard E. Rollin, PhD, is a bioethicist and professor of philosophy, biomedical sciences, and animal sciences at Colorado State University. He's the author of numerous articles and several books, including Animal Rights and Human Morality; The Unheeded Cry: Animal Consciousness, Animal Pain and Science; Farm Animal Welfare: Social, Bioethical, and Research Issues; and Science and Ethics, and is the editor of The Experimental Animal in Biomedical Research.
What is the most exciting change you've seen in veterinary medicine?
Undoubtedly, the rise of concern with animal pain and distress. Historically, these issues were ignored. To this day, too many veterinarians use the term chemical restraint wrongly as a synonym for anesthesia. Our knowledge of farm-animal analgesia is abysmal, and too many procedures in that area are still done with "bruticaine."
Bernard E. Rollin, PhD
Who inspired you most in your career?
Dr. Harry Gorman, former American Veterinary Medical Association president, inventor of the artificial hip joint, and lead veterinarian in the use of animals in the aerospace program. Together, he and I developed the world's first course in veterinary medical ethics. He was truly a titanic figure in veterinary medicine.
What was the best professional advice you ever received?
Willard Eddy, the philosophy department chairman who hired me at Colorado State University, told me, "With your personality, you'd better publish extensively!"
What would you advise a new graduate?
Never stop learning!
What book would you recommend?
Oliver Sacks' Awakenings. It's an excellent analysis of the concept of sickness. It's directed at human medicine but is highly relevant to veterinary medicine.
What book are you reading now?
The Worst of Evils: The Fight Against Pain by Thomas Dormandy—it's a history of pain control.
What is your favorite film?
For a Few Dollars More. If you don't know why, I can't explain it to you.
What favorite music would you include on your personal jukebox?
My musical tastes are eclectic, ranging from medieval madrigals to South American folk music to gypsy music to jazz to Tuvan throat singing.
What part of your work do you enjoy most?
Lecturing to veterinarians across the world. They are amazingly receptive to new ideas and raise wonderful questions.
What do you consider the greatest threat to the profession?
I see two major threats: 1) Failing to keep up with social-ethical animal welfare concerns, particularly in farm animals; 2) Losing veterinary medicine's hard-won scientific status to the lure of evidentially baseless alternative medicine and thereby creating medical anarchy.
Which animal health needs are currently unmet?
Far too many animals are wastefully euthanized. If a disease killed as many animals as are destroyed because of owners' inability to cope with behavioral problems, there would be a massive effort to eradicate it, but that has not occurred.
What changes in veterinary medicine do you hope will occur in the next 100 years?
Leadership by veterinarians in animal welfare issues.
What is your sci-fi prediction for veterinary medicine?
If the CIA could not predict the fall of the Soviet Union, I do not presume to predict. What should be done is that far more attention should be paid to genetic diseases and defects in all animals—dogs, pigs, and dairy cattle. Zoonotic diseases will assume increased prominence as will veterinarian involvement in public health and disaster medicine.
Do you have a bad habit?
What is the greatest achievement of your career?
Helping to draft and pass the 1985 amendments to the Animal Welfare Act. These laboratory animal laws drove the reappropriation of common sense about animal pain and distress in science and veterinary medicine. This legislation, mandating Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee reviews, has made life better for millions of laboratory animals.
What makes a good veterinarian?
A strong basis of understanding in biological science, a sense of compassion, and the ability to communicate with people. The last item must be stressed. A veterinarian is in an animal advocacy position in which people skills can make the difference between life and death for an animal.