Internal conflicts – How we discriminate

Humankind manages to sustain some very contradictory attitudes and beliefs surrounding our relationship with animals. They are our friends, our aides, our test subjects and our sources of food and clothing. With the exception of the vegans amongst us, most of us overlook our brazen discrimination against one species in favour of another.  We may spend thousands on treating our pet, while unwilling to spend a few extra dollars for free range eggs. We may donate to the RSPCA, and then favour a pure-bred dog over a homeless mongrel on death row..

bifringence.

As individuals:

The lens through which we view the animal kingdom is coloured by religion, culture, and broader life experiences. Vets are not immune to these influences, and a graduating class of any vet school will include those destined to work in welfare, private hospitals, farm animal production, animal research, industry and abattoirs.  Most of  us work in clinical practice, labouring for the injured and sick, and yet continue to eat meat. We, like the rest of society, reconcile these internal conflicts, and manage to arrive at some place that we find comfortable in our dealings with animals (more detail here).

As societies:

We live in societies that view animal welfare with moral relativism.  With the exception of gratuitous cruelty there are few universally accepted sins, and our treatment of animals is judged more on circumstance. Vets and pet owners must respect the plurality of beliefs surrounding animal welfare, and accept it is not our position to condemn those who see things differently to ourselves.  Off your moral high-horse: public education, engendering empathy, guided decision-making, and leading by example are better strategies..

angowrierocks .

As a profession:

Vet professional bodies find themselves in an invidious position, straddling these divides, and representing the interests of a disparate mob of individuals whose beliefs are almost as contradictory as those of society at large.  Enquiry into issues of public concern, such as live animal export and mulesing, will have vets representing both sides of the argument. Vets working in animal research may be the sworn enemy of the animal rights campaigners, while the vet clinician is often their ally. Without a central unifying ethic like the Hippocratic oath, the closest we can come to an industry-wide policy is that of basic harm-minimsation.

In spite of this, surveys repeatedly find vets high on the list of respected occupations, although brass plaques are not as shiny as they once were. Community attitude towards professionals is more balanced in the age of investigative journalism and public litigation; stories of the drink-driving judge, negligent medico, or the paedophilic priest have made us wary of generalisation. During day-to-day work, vets encounter a spectrum of dispositions amongst pet owners, ranging from deeply devoted and emotionally engaged clients, who revere one’s every word, through to those detached and sceptical.

Many pet owners come to vets for advice on matters of animal suffering, seeking an arbiter, not only on what’s wrong, but also what’s best for the patient. I always reassure those facing tough decisions, there is rarely one course of action that is the universally right. Decision-making needs to be put in context, considering the owner’s beliefs, circumstances, and resources.

. greentreefrog

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