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Sticky ethical equine dilemmas


Things to think about when dealing with contract and health certificates.

What if ... you signed an agreement?

Let's say you and your partner have a signed buy-sell agreement in place and one of you decides it's time to retire. The agreement, which was written 20 years ago and never updated, states that if either partner wants to leave for any reason, the other can buy the exiting partner's share of the practice for $50,000. But the practice is now valued at $4 million.

The legal contract clearly states the terms of the sale when one partner elects to leave for any reason. But is it ethically or morally fair? That's what you're going to have to decide-ideally with an attorney's advice. Imagine how the different personalities might handle this:

> An aggressive partner could push out the retiring partner with a pittance.

> A passive partner may agree to pay whatever the exiting partner wants.

> A passive-aggressive partner might agree to the other partner?s wishes but extract ?payment? in other, perhaps underhanded ways.

> An assertive partner could sit down with the exiting partner and discuss a mutually agreeable amount.

Consider the factors and think about how you would handle it.

What if ... a contract isn?t written down?

Perhaps your practice has hired an associate but never created a written employment contract-just an oral "I agree to do this and not that" handshake. Now suppose that associate leaves without notice and is considering opening a practice down the road. The legal backing for your noncompete agreement is shaky-it's the associate's word vs. the owner's. Is there a moral or ethical element to this situation? That depends on the owner's and associate's moral compasses as well as their personalities. The associate may not be breaking any legal or ethical covenant not to compete since there's no signed legal document, but his or her moral consideration for the former employer may drive the doctor to move far enough away not to interfere with the former practice.

What if ... a client asks you to write a health certificate for a horse you haven't seen?

As an equine doctor, you've likely written your share of health certificates for transport of horses across state lines to the next show or event. What happens if a client asks you to fill out a certificate without actually examining the horse or horses in the trailer? In most cases horses arrive at their destination and everything is fine. Isn't this legally and ethically OK? No! First, it's against the law, and your license could be in jeopardy. Secondly, the AVMA has established a clear ethical guideline, stating in 1998 that you are responsible for the accuracy of the veterinary inspection certificates you issue and that by signing, you're indicating that you conducted the appropriate examination. Veterinarians are obligated to make sure no infectious diseases are transported across state lines-for the sake of horses, their owners, and the community at large. Therefore you have an ethical and moral obligation to protect all stakeholders, and you face legal ramifications for not complying.

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