Spend 2018 delving into veterinary ethics - Veterinary Practice
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Spend 2018 delving into veterinary ethics

David Williams reviews an accessible new title on veterinary ethics that blends hardcore theory with plenty of practical examples

It was going to be a long flight – Utah and back in three days. But I have some decent reading material to occupy me on the flight – Siobhan Mullan and Anne Fawcett’s Veterinary Ethics: NAVIGATING TOUGH CASES (their capitals!). Well, for starters I have to say that this is a big book! I don’t know quite what I was expecting, but not over 500 pages’ worth of volume that the postie managed – just – to squeeze through the letterbox!

“How on earth am I going to get through this?” I wondered. Twelve hours to Utah might allow me to make a start. But a lady at the back of the plane has just had a seizure mid-Atlantic and we’re headed back to Dublin to ‘deplane’ the poor woman before heading back to the States – more time to enjoy this book. And enjoy is exactly the word to use.

They say that youths these days have an attention span of only 10 minutes, but if I have to spend much more than that reading about Rawls’ Theory of Justice or the equivalent, I tend to drift off myself

It might be big, but boy it is beautiful – superbly-produced with lots of colour photos illustrating the cases involved, and beautifully written as well. The book is easy to read with a mixture of hardcore text on the philosophy behind ethical theory mixed with great examples. Bernard Rollin, the king and pioneer of veterinary ethics, has produced brilliant texts on the subject, so I must admit I wondered how Siobhan and Anne were going to top that, but they have done so a hundredfold.

They managed to do it by involving the help of many colleagues (43, to be precise). They have them providing commentaries on cases, even having debates mid-text on contentious issues, which is what makes it such compulsive reading. They say that youths these days have an attention span of only 10 minutes, but if I have to spend much more than that reading about Rawls’ Theory of Justice or the equivalent, I tend to drift off myself. That is why you only spend five minutes in this text on a subject like that before Siobhan and Anne give you an example to think about and a useful set of bullet-points on what they see the strengths and limitations of the theory to be.

We plunge straight from that chapter on making ethical decisions into ‘Animal Death’, where we see situations in which those decisions need to be made: everything from welfare of poultry on a stunning line to the perils of a veterinary student dealing with a terminal dog in Thailand where euthanasia in the UK would be the obvious route, but Buddhist teaching there outlaws it. And we’re only a fifth of the way through the book! There’s animal use from agriculture to laboratories to come, and issues of finance and consent and cloning and team building…

Should be near the top of the student list

Do I have any reservations? I’m a bit worried that with all the texts students have to buy, this one might not be near the top of their list, but it should be. Anatomy and biochemistry, pathology and pharmacology, surgery and medicine all crowd their way into the course and often ethics is squeezed in to the extent that buying a text like this might not seem of prime importance. But for students, for everyone, even though the volume looks a bit intimidating by its size, part of the joy of the book is how colour pictures and cartoons interspersed with text keep you reading and add to the interactive nature of the writing.

There are plenty of ‘what would you do?’ boxes giving the ‘TOUGH CASES’ the title suggests. Some of them are followed by discussions by various contributors while in others, it is left for us to make up our own minds – which is what we have to do each day in the clinic. Ask for this book for Christmas – and then spend all of 2018 delving into it!

David Williams

Fellow and Director of Studies at St John's College, University of Cambridge

David Williams, MA, VetMB, PhD, CertVOphthal, CertWEL, FHEA, FRCVS, graduated from Cambridge in 1988 and has worked in veterinary ophthalmology at the Animal Health Trust. He gained his Certificate in Veterinary Ophthalmology before undertaking a PhD at the RVC. David now teaches at the vet school in Cambridge.

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