Veterinary ethics: For the good of us all

July 17, 2017

Dr. Robin Downing wants you to see how you can help lead the way to a brighter future for all pets.

(Shutterstock)You're likely familiar with Robin Downing, DVM, DAAPM, DACVSMR, CVPP, CCRP, CVA, MS-a guiding light for the veterinary profession on pain control and humane care for all animals. Did you know she's an eternal student as well?

Her most recent adventure was obtaining a master's degree in clinical bioethics, with a thesis that applies four core principles of human bioethics to veterinary medicine.

Here's a quick look at how you can leap ahead to a complete bioethical view. Get a more in-depth look from Dr. Downing here.

Principle 1: Respect for autonomy

This right of self-determination is a tough one because veterinary patients can't directly tell us what they want. So this often becomes more about respecting the autonomy of the pet owner, according to Dr. Downing: “to tell the truth, to respect clients' privacy, to protect clients' confidential information, to obtain consent for interventions with patients, and, when asked, to help clients make important decisions.”

But can you respect a pet's autonomy as well? Dr. Downing says yes-you can assume a pet's choice would always be to avoid pain. In addition, pets clearly show preferences for things such as what they like to eat, where they like to relax around the house and how they like to be handled.

“A part of the veterinary professional's moral obligation to those patients is to honor those preferences,” Dr. Downing says, “and to assist the pet owner in honoring those preferences-whenever possible.”

Principle 2: Nonmaleficence

Here's where that famed part of the human doctor's oath “First, do no harm” comes in. The veterinary application could be to make sure pets are spared pain and neglect. Dr. Downing says this can be accomplished by keeping on top of all the pain management options available and frequently monitoring a patient to ensure pain hasn't emerged.

Principle 3: Beneficence

It's not all about the avoidance of the bad. You should also actively participate in the good. “For companion animals facing acute pain, beneficence demands that the veterinary professional consider all the ways in which pain can be anticipated, prevented and (when it cannot be prevented) treated,” says Dr. Downing. Get ready to supercharge those pain perception skills!

Principle 4: Justice

Even though the healthcare of a pet is dictated by the pet owner, you must still do the best for that animal, which can mean clearly communicating with clients.

“Fairness during interactions with pet owners means providing them with the very best effort that can be expended on behalf of each companion animal patient, avoiding prejudice directed toward either pet owner or pet,” says Dr. Downing.

Always explain to pet owners all the risks, benefits and anticipated costs of a procedure. Work together with them to ensure they can handle all aspects of treatment and explore options for payment.