Animal Studies Bibliography

Tannenbaum, Jerrold. 1993. Veterinary Medical Ethics: A Focus of Conflicting Interests. Journal of Social Issues , 49 (1): 143-156.

Veterinarians are crucial players in the question of human-animal relations because they are involved in almost all decision-making about animal treatment (in laboratory, research, farming, and companion animal settings). Their involvement in all these areas means that any agenda for changing animal treatment will have to be accepted by veterinarians. Vets are also important because they are in a unique position of advocating both the interests of animals and the interests of humans and of weighing those interests against each other in cases of conflict. Vets are in a difficult position in these cases because of the varied roles they must fill, often serving as advocate for both sides as well as final decision-maker or judge. While a coherent ethic of human-animal interaction would therefore be helpful, there are three major barriers to such an ethic. First, we lack consensus regarding on animals' value and hence what treatment they deserve (for example, whether saving an animal from pain and suffering is enough or whether they deserve freedom to move about and socialize). No coherent ethic could be created until vets and the public agreed on such questions of desert. Second, we need more empirical data upon which to base our judgments about animal worth. Many opinions on what animals deserve are based upon ideas about what mental/psychological states animals can experience. More research on what animals actually do experience might resolve many of these arguments. Third, psychological terms must be used more carefully. Currently, terms normally applied to humans, such a stress, anxiety, and fear, are being extended to describe animal states. These extensions, however, are problematic because the terms are often redefined to apply to animals, and the terms thereby lose the deeper meanings and implications they have with regard to humans. The use of such (redefined) loaded terms to apply to animal states is misleading and simply confuses the issues.

Part of the work to be undertaken in the future will involve social science research that can help veterinarians better understand the needs and interests of both humans relating to animals and of animals themselves. Research must also address vets' ethical views and how those change during their professional training. Previous research, conducted with small samples and therefore questionable, has found both that ethical reasoning decreased during the course of veterinary training and that male and female subjects show slightly different moral reasoning patterns, along Gilligan's justice/care typology. This difference, if supported in further research, would be particularly interesting because most current veterinary students are women, and this change in balance could change the ethical issues being addressed.

As a profession, veterinarians have recently shown increased interest in the issue of ethics. Professional conduct guidelines shifted in 1989 from focusing solely on issues like advertising and product endorsements to including concerns about proper animal treatment. Further, whereas in the early 80s the AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association) advised members that it supported animal welfare but would not use the term animal rights, the view has since shifted. The earlier view was based on the belief that animal rights implied a rejection of any human use of animals. The new policy recognizes that animal rights has other possible meanings, and accepts use of the term in cases where rights are understood in the traditionally liberal sense (animals, like people, have certain basic rights that cannot be impeded upon for others' purposes, unless the need be very significant). Finally, veterinary schools are increasing the amount of training they are offering in ethics. Still, much more work is needed.



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