Facing the moral dilemmas - Veterinary Practice
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Facing the moral dilemmas

Anyone listening to the radio today would be intrigued by the moral dilemma posed by US senators calling for senior ministers from the London and Scottish Parliaments variously to attend official hearings in the US with reference to both the release of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi and the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

A spokesman for the Scottish government was resolute in his rebuttal of any moral imperative to attend and testify at any hearing at the request of the United States, while an eloquent spokesperson for the relatives of those US citizens killed in the Lockerbie air disaster put a cogent and persuasive case that, with nothing to hide, these ministers were sending all the wrong signals to those in the US who believed that our two nations enjoyed a special relationship.

Fascinating stuff really and each of us, whatever our political allegiance, will have different ideas on the way in which we believe this moral dilemma might unfold.

Buck passing at speed

Nothing seems to be straightforward and, if it were not enough that Al Megrahi has, in political terms, rather inconveniently failed to succumb to his terminal prostate cancer within the period of time which was used to justify the decision to release him on humanitarian grounds, it seems that the English and Scottish parliamentarians are passing the buck between each other with the speed of a Nadal serve at Wimbledon, to paraphrase one US senator’s acerbic observation.

Then, to add fuel to the fire, there are accusations that Al Megrahi’s release was influenced by commercial considerations and news on the scale of “Hillary Clinton vows to look into claims oil firm lobbied for release of Libyan convicted over 1988 bombing in oil-for-terrorist deal”, as reported in The Guardian earlier in July, is quite frankly, not going to simply go away.

It is, perhaps, good news for this beleaguered nation that around half of the surface oil floating in the Gulf of Mexico appears to have been dealt with either through containment and dispersal or by the forces of nature, and observers are beginning to think that BP’s Tony Hayward might have been right after all when he said, at the outset, that this would turn out to be, in ecological terms, not as big a disaster as many feared.

Of course, Tony Hayward has already become a casualty of this disaster himself, having failed to win the hearts and minds of the local community which, in turn, has led to President Obama’s hasty political intervention and, potentially, further damage to whatever “special relationship” may or may not exist between the UK and the US.

Without doubt, the clarion call of those who deal in damage limitation is to win the hearts and minds of those affected at the earliest opportunity and, in the situations cited above, very few of the players – including the Governments in London, Scotland and the US, BP and its officials, the media and lawyers concerned – have done anything to win the hearts and minds of anyone at all other than in a few jingoistic stirrings of sovereign pride when we ask ourselves why the Americans believe they can bully anyone and everyone to comply with what they think is right.

Right on their side?

Clearly, the Americans believe they have right on their side with these issues. On the one hand, we need to have some sovereign resilience or we’d simply roll over every time something went wrong but, on the other hand, it appears that most but not all of the US relatives of those who died in the Lockerbie air disaster wanted Al Megrahi to serve his full term in prison while most, but not all, of those related to the British passengers who died saw merit in his release on compassionate grounds.

What is this carousel of moral dilemma to do with veterinary practice? In direct terms, of course, very little. Whether the “special relationship” between our nations flourishes is of little consequence within the walls of our practices but the issues of trust embodied in all of these twists and turns have immediate relevance to us in the interface between the practice and the public.

A lucky escape…

After the screening of the BBC1 Panorama programme, the profession appears – on the face of it – to have enjoyed a very lucky escape. Amid much discussion of the poor nature of the investigative journalism, we have quite rightly heard condemnation of some individuals featured in the TV footage as well as some expressions of relief that the programme seemed to have focused more on the failures of proper supervision of young graduates and nurses, allowing any major discussion of veterinary practice standards to slip away unchallenged.

What has been left behind, however, is the generally unpleasant smell which accompanies the slow realisation that something is not quite right here.

Of course, this profession is strong and resilient but why should it need to be resilient in such a situation? The vast majority of practice staff are simply beyond question in their professionalism and compassion shown towards the animals under their care but, here yet again, we see footage and read newspaper reports of practices which are simply unacceptable.

Unless we, as a profession, rise to the challenge and make it clear to pet owners across the nation that such practices horrify us too and that we are committed to expunge such behaviour and expel those who perpetrate it, why will the pet-owning public believe us and not what they see on TV or read in the paper they have chosen to buy?

When our ministers refuse to testify in the US, what do we believe the US media will make of that and what might we suppose the US populace will believe once their media have finished their feeding frenzy?

Similarly, and on an admittedly more parochial front, why do we believe that our good relationship with our bonded clients will simply carry us away from any unfortunate comparisons with what they saw on the Panorama programme or read in their newspapers or heard on Radio 2?

It might be a more parochial comparison but we live in the digital age and we were taken by surprise when the internet facilitated a lasting challenge to vaccination frequency, mounted by a determined band of those pet owners who believed that the profession, and the industry which serves it, had been less than honest with them in the interest of financial considerations.

These are all highly emotive issues and, should we be brave enough to ask ourselves which lessons have been learned in the interim, shouldn’t we expect that among the tens of millions of viewers, readers and listeners there might be a substantial number of practice users who might believe that there’s no smoke without fire?

Sitting still with our fingers crossed, hoping that it will all go away, is not the way to deal with this issue.t

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