BOOKS: Veterinary Ethics: An Introduction

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, November 2000:

Veterinary Ethics: An Introduction
Edited by Giles Legood
Contiuum (370 Lexington Ave., New York, NY 10017), 2000.
192 pages, paperback. $23.95

“The Reverend Giles Legood,” editor
of Veterinary Ethics, “is Chaplain and
Honorary Lecturer in Veterinary Ethics at the
Royal Veterinary College, University of
London,” the back cover warns––an example
of why one should not judge a book by the
cover, because Veterinary Ethics is neither a
sermon nor mere academic philosophizing.
The worst one might fairly say of
Legood and his contributing authors is that
they are not as entertaining as Bernard Rollin,
whose lectures at Colorado State University
and elsewhere over the past 20 years have virtually
created the field of veterinary ethics.

But there is only one Bernard
Rollin, and he has not yet written a textbook
to guide either vets already in practice or
soon-to-be through the clashing rocks of professional
obligation versus public expectation.
Prevailing attitudes toward animals
have probably changed more in the past 15
years than in the previous 1,500, to the shock
of some vets who––like former Albuquerque
Animal Services veterinarian Jan Thompson
in mid-June 2000––suddenly find themselves
out of work and denounced in headlines for
doing the job they were taught.
Barely into middle age, Thompson
when interviewed by ANIMAL PEOPLE
sounded a bit like Rip Van Winkle. She
seemed to have no clear idea why the public
was appalled that she used a catch-pole to
hold feral cats while she killed them.
Like small animal vets who still bob
dogs’ tails and crop their ears, or agricultural
vets who starve hens to induce forced molts,
Thompson might have benefited from a few
Bernard Rollin lectures, but reading
Veterinary Ethics could substitute in absence
of the opportunity.
Lagood and 14 contributing authors
first review the evolving status of animals in
human culture, then review the evolving status
of vets, and finally summarize major
issues of which vets should be aware.
Most significantly, they point out,
veterinary medicine has moved beyond the
practice of technical specialties. A veterinarian
today is expected to be not only proficient
in animal medicine, but also capable of acting
as an informed moral arbiter. Some vets may
spend most of their working time in barns or
laboratories, but the majority now interact
extensively with an increasingly wellinformed
and critical public.
To build a thriving practice and stay
out of trouble, vets must maintain––or develop––the
social skills and cultural awareness of
ministers, family counselors, and good general
practice physicians.
The public today wants all vets to
be the fictional James Herriot, or Dr. Dolittle,
whose views are now almost as in step with
the times as they seemed outlandish as recently
as the mid-1960s. But even Herriot or
Dolittle, if practicing today, would find in
Veterinary Ethics some things to think about,
before an ethically challenging case arrives

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