Animal Studies Bibliography

Herzog, Jr., Harold A., Tamara Vore, and John C. New. 1988. Conversations with veterinary students: Attitudes, ethics, and values. Anthrozoos 2: 181-188.

The position of vets exemplifies the complexities of human-animal relationships, as they are asked to both care for and inflict pain on and kill animals. Vets face many of the same ethical dilemmas faced by human doctors (e.g. euthanasia, economic factors, conflicts between patient's needs and others desires) but these has been much less study of veterinary students' attitudes and ethical concerns. 24 students graduating from the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine were selected randomly and interviewed to investigate these issues. The subjects included 8 men and 16 women, 50% TN residents, 9 raised in rural communities, 14 planning to enter small-animal practice, 3 large-animal, and 7 mixed. Asked about how their attitudes toward animals had changed during vet school, most said their attitudes had not changed and that training had not made them more callous toward animal suffering; 6 said they had become more sensitive to this suffering. Some were concerned that they would become more calloused after they began their practice. Students were also asked what aspects of their training they found stressful. Students found unnecessary procedures (prolonging the animals' suffering because the owner will not accept the need for euthanasia; cosmetic surgeries like ear cropping and declawing; lab exercises in which animals are made to suffer; practicing procedures felt irrelevant for future practice, like goat surgery for small-animal practitioners) morally or ethically upsetting. Students found other procedures more viscerally and emotionally upsetting, often because they involved pain to the animal, such as surgery on animals with no anesthesia, smelling dog blood, inflicting deep pain to assess the animals' neurological state, removing diseased eyeballs, and necropsies (animal autopsies) on animals the students had developed relationships with. Using live animals for practice surgery was a subject of considerable controversy among the students, particularly since the students care for the animals in between surgeries and therefore become close to them. Some students argued that it was better to get practice before performing the surgery on animals in one's job, and that this was a more meaningful death for the pound animal. Students also justified the practice by saying that the animals were well cared for and that the availability of the animals was the fault of irresponsible owners [same justification as shelter workers use--see Arluke 1991a]. Others were concerned that the most be made out of each animal life used, by doing as many surgeries as possible on each animal and ensuring that students had done proper background work to get the full benefit of the experience. When asked about ethical issues they expected to face in their careers, euthanizing a healthy animal was the most often mentioned, and while most students said they would try to talk the owner out of it, they were mixed on whether they would comply or not. Economic issues also figured prominently: what to do if the owner couldn't or wouldn't pay for care; dilemmas of overcharging or doing unnecessary procedures; and being pressured to administer steroids or pain killers to racing or show animals. Students were also concerned with dealing with signs of animal abuse, and a few mentioned issues of factory farming, confidentiality, using unapproved drugs, and responsibility for controlling unwanted animals. There were very mixed views about euthanasia. Most students seemed to have grappled with the issue considerably, and showed less concern over euthanizing a suffering animal than a healthy one. A third emphasized the merits of euthanasia as a medical tool and said it did not bother them; another third said it greatly upset them, even after much experience doing it. Some mentioned the difficulty involved in euthanizing an animal they knew. Most students dealt with the issue either by rationalizing its necessity or by not thinking about it (denial). Asked about ethical training in vet school, most felt it was adequate, and several pointed out that ethical decision-making can't really be taught. Most notable in the interviews were the degree of thought the students had given the issues, the range of individual responses, and the spontaneous justifications they offered for procedures that bothered them. It is possible that these results are different from those that would be found at other vet schools because of a greater emphasis on ethics in this curriculum or because different schools require training in different procedures. Future studies should interview students periodically throughout their training and/or follow them into their practice to see how attitudes change.




Visit the Michigan State University Homepage Return to the Animal Studies Homepage