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What is the greatest reward for doing?
Men forever will be accountable for the level of stewardship they provide animals.
Recently, Dr. John Wright, past-president of the American Association of Human Animal Bond Veterinarians, asked me what I considered to be the most significant changes in the human-animal bond in context of my career as a veterinarian.
Carl A. Osborne
I began to reflect on the phenomenal changes that have occurred in the practice of veterinary medicine since I graduated from Purdue University's School of Veterinary Medicine in 1964. Many advances in patient care that have occurred during the past 40 years are related to the emergence of an evidence-based approach to diagnosis and therapy.
This, in turn, has resulted in a paradigm shift in the philosophy of the practice of veterinary medicine from an art based largely on empiricism to a science built on the foundations of verifiable observations and technology. However, in my instance, a more-significant change that has occurred in context of the human-animal bond involved my perspective of the value that I place on the lives of animals.
At one time, I accepted the scientific premise that evolutionary random mutations and natural selection were responsible for the complex structural and functional design of living things. However, as I learned more about the anatomical, physiological, biochemical and genetic complexities of biological systems, I began to search diligently for answers about the origin of life and the purpose of life. As I have described elsewhere, my search for answers to these questions uncovered convincing evidence that life could not originate by chance (JAVMA 217:1622-1624, 2000).
Rather, scientific logic based on probability and the principle of cause and effect point to the conclusion that an intelligent designer is responsible for the amazing structural and functional design found in living beings—animal and human. This conclusion heightened my appreciation and respect for all forms of life. Although in my role as a veterinarian I have been trained to provide care primarily for companion animals. I am not a "species racist." Of all professions, the veterinary profession should champion respect for, and appreciation of, all forms of life.
In context of the practice of veterinary medicine and the human-animal bond, why is the issue of the origin and purpose of life important? If we accept the premise that we are the product of an intelligent designer, then it follows that the designer had a purpose for all living things. According to the Bible, God put man in charge of the animals (Genesis 1: 28), and entrusted the earth to man's protective care (Genesis 2: 15; Psalm 115: 16).
As caretakers, however, humans were not to upset the balance of nature. Man's having the animals in subjection placed upon him a stewardship for which he would always be held accountable (Luke 12: 48). As with humans (I also am dedicated to the human-human bond), I have come to view the life of animals as precious (Matthew 10: 29). Does this mean I wouldn't harm an ant? The answer is that I would not harm an ant (or any other form of life) if the sole purpose for harming the ant was pleasure or thoughtless demonstration of superiority. I am reminded of the words of William Cowper who said, "I would not enter on my list of friends the man who needlessly steps on a worm."
In context of being a veterinarian, I view my role as a doctor as an extension of this stewardship. Although my training has led me to "specialize" in disorders of the urinary system, I am not a "body-system racist." Rather, I strive to provide the type of care for my patients that I would desire for myself. In addition, in my role as a university faculty member, I recognize that veterinary teaching hospitals not only are expected to use contemporary knowledge, they have the obligation to create and disseminate new knowledge about the causes, diagnosis, treatment and prevention of various diseases. However, I am constantly on guard not to let the intellectual stimulation associated with scientific investigation override concern for my patients. In addition, I constantly remind myself not to let the desire for peer recognition or personal financial profit to compromise their care and welfare. Despite our DVM, VMD, DMV, AHT, and PhD degrees, we are all members of a profession whose mission fosters the well-being of others. Our mission is to serve, not to be served. Therefore, the true importance of what we do should be measured in context of what it accomplishes in behalf of others, not just in light of what it does for us in terms of prestige or personal income.
The opportunity to contribute to the welfare of animals and their human companions in my role as a veterinarian has been a richly rewarding experience. In fact, I have learned that the greatest reward for doing is the opportunity to do more.
Dr. Osborne, DVM, Ph.D., Dipl. ACVIM, a diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine, is professor of medicine in the Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Minnesota.