Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The oath for Veterinarian's.....

has been revised by the AVMA. The old oath:
Being admitted to the profession of veterinary medicine, I solemnly swear to use my scientific knowledge and skills for the benefit of society through the protection of animal health, the relief of animal suffering, the conservation of animal resources, the promotion of public health, and the advancement of medical knowledge.
The new oath:
Being admitted to the profession of veterinary medicine, I solemnly swear to use my scientific knowledge and skills for the benefit of society through the protection of animal health and welfare, the prevention and relief of animal suffering, the conservation of animal resources, the promotion of public health, and the advancement of medical knowledge.
I have never cared for the oath because of that second sentence.....which places the "benefit of society" ahead of any duty to their patients. It has only taken this long to add the notion of the welfare of the patient to the oath, maybe.....someday.....their primary duty will be to their patients.

But hey, change is change, movement is movement and I see this as some slight movement in a good direction for the animal people they are supposed to care for.

Bea Elliot over at her blog Provoked first stimulated me to think about veterinarians and their strange profession. I say strange because somebody that also eats or otherwise exploits their patients.....well....I have a hard time wrapping my mind around the notion that this sort of somebody is a practitioner of the "healing arts" in a consistent and genuine sense of the word.

Imagine if human animals enslaving and/or eating other human animals was a common and accepted behavior.

Which sort of doctor would you want caring for that enslaved and/or ate human animals or one that abjured such behavior and avoided any use or maltreatment of sentient beings? One that thought human animals were property or one that thought human animals should be free to live their lives as they see fit?

Veterinarians are subject to the same hodgepodge of inconsistencies, delusions, lies and mind-warping as the rest of us (about other animals)....such mental and emotional gyrations being part of the structure that maintains our exploitation of living beings and our planet. But their profession puts them in a special situation and my mind....places a more stringent demand on them. Practitioners of the "healing arts" should not also be exploiters of their patients (no matter what sort of sentient being their patient happens to be).

I urge you to read these posts (link1, link2, link3, link4, link5) at Provoked for a more thorough exploration of the culturally induced and supported schisms associated with the practice of veterinary medicine. Bea has done an admirable job of exploring a significant "blindness to bizarreness" that floats along in the world and is rarely noticed, much less commented on.

Living a life where avoiding, as much as is practical and possible, the exploitation or use of any sentient being for any purpose seems to me to be how you would have to live to be a good physician no matter what form your patients took. The highest duty of such a practitioner should be to their patient........not their pocketbook, or their stomach, or their ego, or their society, or, or, or ad infinitum.......


Krissa said...

Sigh. This one hits close to home. One of my brothers (and my brothers are my dearest lifelong friends) is a marine biologist and now is in vet school. He is not vegan. He is a good guy... this is back to the conundrum about knowing people and having family members who are good people, but they are still part of the problem...and it's one that hurts my heart. I know my brother is very compassionate in most ways, but your point about "who would you want treating you" hits home. Not to mention some of the cruelty that is perpetuated by vet schools. I won't even get into that because it is too huge a topic. My brother has seen some stuff that upsets him - you can imagine. I've worked for a few veterinarians in my day and all but one of them were horrible. It was so shocking to be behind the scenes. I walked off one job because someone I did not recognize who turned out to be a new doctor was slapping at a barking caged dog with one of the loop around leads. The little metal circle at the end was hitting the dog. When I yelled at the guy and then went to tell on him thinking he was a new tech, I found out he was a new vet!!! I quit right then and there. That was just one bad story from that particular place though. I've seen vets and vet techs scream at dogs and cats. I've seen dogs under anesthesia thrown around by an angry 'doctor' who didn't like the dog when he was awake and could have kicked the guy's ***. However, one of the guys I worked for was truly wonderful! And the vet we took our cat girl Basil to was also very loving and it was not an act in front of 'customers'...but I'm rambling. I just wish that my brother and everyone else who does have a heart and is otherwise very caring and compassionate would see the light the way I, the way all of us finally saw it. Someday......

Jem said...

I am a pre-veterinary student. And a vegan. It simultaneously makes perfect sense to be both and makes no sense. So this is how it goes. You love animals. You want to be a vet. So you when you go to college you enroll in the animal science program. Again, you love animals. You don't want to hurt them. So you become a vegetarian (Of course it makes logical sense to be a vegan not a vegetarian if you don't want to hurt animals, but at the time I hadn’t realized that.).

Strangely enough, the result of my not wanting to hurt animals (vegetarian) seemed to clash with the result of my wanting to help animals (animal science major). You see, animal science is not simply the science of animals. It is the science of domestic animals. And mainly the ones charmingly called "food" animals. And so every class I take in that program makes it clear that animals exist for us to use. And kill. And eat.

We only have one class in animal welfare, which only discusses animal rights briefly (and poorly). For the rest of the time animal use is never questioned. When we go on field trips to farms, where is the opportunity to question the ethics of killing animals for food?

In my animal management class, we are assigned to a ewe and we are responsible for "processing" her lambs. This involves tail docking them. We weren’t force to tail dock them ourselves, but we were forced to be there or else lose credit. So a couple of eighteen year olds with almost no training in the procedure had to cut off a lamb's tail while that lamb is fully conscious. Where's the opportunity to question the ethics of causing pain to animals there? I did not tail dock the lambs. But I held one while he was tail docked. While he screamed. And I held him again while he was castrated. His name is 005, and he's the sweetest little lamb you'll ever meet. He's going to die.

I watched a sow give birth to twelve beautiful piglets. Their mother was in a farrowing crate. One day these miraculous lives were on the farm, nursing from their mother, and one day they were simply gone.

I watched the sheep get sheared. I saw blood pooling in a ewe’s inner thigh from a cut inflicted by a shearer. But by far the most disturbing part was the attitudes of the people towards the sheep. The woman who had cut the ewe while shearing her, and who I believe is a veterinarian, agreed with another shearer that "they don’t feel pain the same way we do." And the farm manager, laughing, told the shearers that if the cut off any of the ewe's nipples, that ewe would be sent to slaughter. The sheep are only valued for their breasts. They are literally sex objects.

One day in my animal management class we were learning about the dairy industry, and the subject of veal calves came up. My professor claimed she did not eat veal because she thought it was "silly" that they were kept in crates in order to produce pale meat. "Silly"? Really? Not "morally reprehensible"? But then she went on the say that the keeping of calves in crates was justified because veal producers are just "raising a product." And that was it. I was so angry at her that she could be so callous, so angry that no one questioned her, so angry that I was too shy to question her myself. And so my act of rebellion was to go vegan. True, I had been thinking about it and trying it for some time, but I had recently eaten dairy products (My pathetic excuse: I was at a cattle show and you cannot be vegan at a cattle show.). But no more. Surrounded by people who think that animals exist for human purposes, I refuse to eat animals or their products. It's not always easy (from a social perspective), but compared to the suffering of a lamb being tail docked or a calf in a veal crate or a pig sent to slaughter, it's nothing. So that's my long, convoluted vegan pre-vet story.

veganelder said...

Jeez Krissa, great comment...thanks and ouch. Painful stories. One way to glimpse the core of a person is to observe how they behave toward those over whom they have some measure of power. I wish they would all see the light too.

veganelder said...

Oh Jem, wow, thanks for commenting. I find myself wanting to apologize to you....simply because I am older than you and somehow part...for the world you are encountering. Each generation is responsible to those following and I feel like my generation and those that preceded me have failed and failed miserably.

I am sorry for what you have, are and will encounter. There is no excuse for it. There is no excuse for a "professor" of anything to be so callous and oblivious. There is no excuse for any of the horrors we visit on our fellow animals.

I am hopeful however, because there are folks like you that are entering the profession of veterinary medicine and I am sure you will have a lasting and positive impact on behalf of your patients and all veterinarian patients. Thank you.

If you want, and I am able, let me know if you want any assistance in hassling any of your professors. :-)

Jem said...

Thanks so much. Being the only vegan that I know at my school is certainly not fun so it’s great to talk to people who get it. I just hoped to shed some light on why vets may believe what they do from the perspective of a pre-vet student. It has a lot to do with indoctrination and perpetuating the myth that you can somehow love animals and eat them. The profession has very conservative roots that are based on the notion of animals as resources. Some vets may get beyond that to the idea of animals as individuals but unfortunately usually only for companion animals. In terms of us pre-vet/animal science students, it’s so easy to conform to this double standard for different types of animals. The idea is that the professors have been working with animals for far longer than we have so they know what’s best for them. But how does that in any way qualify them to make ethical judgments about animal use? If anything, I would think that would make them less qualified, because they have been an environment that discourages critical thinking about the issue for quite some time. One of my fellow students said something about us animal science students being more qualified to consider the ethics of meat consumption and I thought that was incredibly ridiculous. You don’t need to be involved in animal science in order to be against animal use any more than you need to a solider to be against war.

Krissa said...

Oh Jem, your comment has me in tears. I'm sorry for what you go through. My brother hasn't reached the point that you have, going vegan, but he too has had some horrendous experiences. Oddly enough, the only one that made all the students angry was when they had ('got to') tour around Ringling Brothers Circus. And you can best believe those circus people kept everything out of sight, but my brother said the students were all really mad and not at all happy to be there. I applaud that, but I also wish that the things that go on in those classes would be ended. I'll be thinking of you. And for what it's worth, I'm glad you're there for the loving creatures who can't get out of their situation. At least they have someone who cares - even if you can't stop what's happening to them. Geez. This makes me so sad. ... Good luck to you in your future practice. If you were near where I live, I'd certainly come to you for my cat family members.

Great post VE. It's sure brought out a lot of sad stories, but it shines a light on them that needs to be shined.

veganelder said...

Okay Jem....maybe I can steer you to some inspirational folks that are in your field. You may want to read about Sarah Gordon, an Oklahoma State University vet student that successfully changed the way the school treated animals ( or about about veterinarian and professor Nedim Buyukmihci ( is one of my personal heroes because he is one of the founders of a favorite farm sanctuary of mine, Animal Place (

There is the Humane Society Veterinary Medicine Society ( that might offer some resources and/or support for you....and there is actually a college of veterinary medicine that has "A Commitment to a Reverence for Life Philosophy in the Veterinary Medicine Curriculum." (

Probably the person that most impresses me from the field of veterinary medicine is Dr. Michael W. Fox. I have a couple of his books and think he is one of the best advocates for animals that has ever existed. (

If you are unfamiliar with him, I urge you to learn more about his career and philosophy...a very inspiring fellow. One of the few things my local newspaper does that is nifty is run his vet column on occasion.

Yes, most "professions" are conservative by nature but almost invariably there will be folks in the profession that are worthy of emulation and can serve as guideposts and (perhaps distant) mentors. Such individuals helped get me through my professional training (in psychology) and your finding yourself some professional "heroes" might be useful for you too.

You have also this and other blogs and folks available to you as sounding boards and support systems...please make use of us...and investigate the other resources. The animals need you...and us old folks do too. :-)

Bea Elliott said...

Fabulous post! I'm so honored that something I said triggered bigger thinking and larger ideas! I surely have learned lots more myself... Especially in the comments and the links provided.

If I can add a resource for Jem - There is a vegan vet, Armaiti May in California.. And she makes housecalls!

I have to add my apology along with veganelder... I'm older too and probably partly responsible for the world you inherit. We had great hopes in the 60's, but sadly we dropped the ball regarding our treatment to nonhumans. Many of us are trying to fix it still...

Your story is most moving. I can't imagine the personal integrity it must take to be surrounded by such (numb) people and still hold your calm. I imagine if you didn't though... You'd be tagged as "too emotional" - Just for caring about what a decent person should care about. (sad)

The stories you tell about the mother sow, the lamb and the cows - All so heartbreaking! And so vicious that people who are in the profession of caring do so little of it. In fact the opposite is true... You probably know this but many vets are employed at the slaughterhouse to insure meat "quality". Same for equine slaughter... And horses ARE on the cusp of being regarded as "pet animals" not "food animals". Hopefully, more vets will align with the former, not the latter.

But then again there's all those government grants that pay for "food animal vets" - Very discouraging...

Jem, amidst all that you hold your own! What a remarkable person you are - So very glad to meet you, even if through an unpleasant topic such as this betrayal is...

Krissa I admire you for having nothing to do with such a person that would strike an innocent animal. And about your brother --- You can only hope that eventually he'll make the connections you have. There are so many layers to sift through... I'm wishing along with you that he finds his way to the truth of it all...

Lastly, a brief mention about my own vet... I really can't say that she doesn't absolutely love her patients. Her focus and concern on my fur family makes me feel confident they are getting the best care possible... No, she's not vegan - BUT - her two daughters are vegetarian (till they can be vegan out of the home). They are aspiring young animal rights activists! They are working on their mother to "go veg" (as I am too!). Every time I have a visit I bring more information, leaflets and brochures... I see a difference in her attitude towards "food animals" every time. She's even started carrying vegetarian pet food. And this is a "slight movement" I know I can build on! :)

Jem said...

I really appreciate everyone’s encouragement and advice.

Krissa, I think more people are becoming enlightened to how cruel and unnecessary circuses are. Unfortunately they haven’t realized that yet for other areas of animal exploitation, but I guess that’s a start!

Veganelder, thanks so much for all the resources! I particularly like the principles of Western University. They write, “This commitment is designed to enhance a reverence for life and for all animals, and not limit such reverence to owned or valued animals.” It seems like people are finally recognizing the inherent value of all animals, which is a big step! My first choice for a vet school is Tufts University. They have a willed body program that they use to teach surgery. On their website they write “In order to supply cadavers for the anatomy laboratories in the first year, Cummings School has established a client donation program … This groundbreaking program benefits clients as well as students. Students … are reminded, through use of a loved, client-donated pet, of the importance and strength of the human-animal bond.” If we can get away from using dogs who were “purpose-bred” for surgery, perhaps we can get away from using animals who were “purpose-bred” for food?

Bea: I have heard of Armaiti May and I’ve emailed her a couple of times. She’s been really helpful, especially in assuring me that can both be a vegan and a vet! She also gave me some great ideas for a research project that doesn’t involve experimenting on animals. And in regards to food animal vets – that is what one of my friends in college wants to be. She absolutely loves cows, but she of course eats them too. I don’t get it. But I think she understand why I’m a vegan so at least that’s something.

So I'm Thinking Of Going Vegan said...

Excellent post! I've always thought that the veterinary profession itself is prone to conflict of interest. Yes, most vets care about animals, but their business still depends on animals being sick. And vets working with livestock who aren't vegan? The biggest potential conflict right there.

Krissa, I'm glad you quit. Good for you!

Jem, I'm so glad you want to become a vet. We need more folk like you to change the profession from the inside. You sound like a strong and thoughtful person, and I know that many animals will benefit from being your future patient.

Bea, I've said it before but I'll say it again -- I hugely admire and respect what you do on your blog. Your patience and persistence blow me away!