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Do vets and doctors face similar ethical challenges?

BMJ 2005; 331 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.331.7527.1227 (Published 24 November 2005) Cite this as: BMJ 2005;331:1227
  1. Rebecca Coombes
  1. London

    What does a vet do when a pet owner wants them to carry out heroic surgery on a dying animal? Rebecca Coombes asks whether doctors and vets can learn from each other's ethical dilemmas

    The ethical problems facing doctors and vets obviously differ in some ways. A veterinary surgeon, for example, can decide when a treatment is no longer valuable and opt for euthanasia. This course is not open to doctors. And a doctor has to seek the consent of a patient for treatment whereas veterinary surgeons need to steer a course between their own professional opinion and the wishes of pet owners. The animal itself has no rights. Moreover, there is no NHS for animals, and decisions about euthanasia often have to be made in the light of an owner's ability to pay for a lengthy course of life extending treatment. But, when considering these ethical issues with members of both the veterinary and medical profession, some interesting parallels emerge.


    Embedded Image

    Could child cruelty, such as that suffered by Victoria Climbié (above), be reduced if vets were obliged to report cases of pet cruelty to the police, because of the connections between the two?

    Credit: PA/EMPICS

    At a recent discussion at the BMA, organised by the BMJ, Lord Soulsby, chairman of the British Veterinary Association's ethics committee, and Michael Wilks, chairman of the BMA's ethics committee, considered their fundamentally different approaches to various ethical dilemmas. They also discovered a surprising amount of common ground.

    A shared issue was that of consent. …

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