Veterinarian's Oath Is Revised to Stress the Importance of Animal Welfare

December 6, 2010 - 8:32 AM

(CNSNews.com) – Apparently feeling pressure from animal rights advocates within its ranks, the American Veterinary Medical Association has revised the oath taken by graduates of U.S. veterinary schools to stress the importance of animal welfare as well as animal health.

The revised oath, approved by the AVMA Executive Board at its December meeting, now reads as follows (the additions appear in italics):

"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."

"From today forward, every graduate entering our profession will swear an oath not only to protect animal health but also welfare; to not only relieve animal suffering but to prevent it. That's a powerful statement defining ourselves and our responsibilities, not a vague symbol," said Dr. Bruce Nixon, chairman-elect of the AVMA’s Animal Welfare Committee.

During deliberations, some board members raised concerns about using the term "animal welfare" because there is no universally accepted definition of the term. “But a majority thought it was more important that the board make a strong statement about the profession's commitment to animal welfare than get mired in debate,” the news release said.

"We have to do this if the AVMA is going to be a global leader in animal welfare," said AVMA President-Elect René A. Carlson. "We can't keep debating this. The time has come."

According to AVMA’s Web site, “Ensuring animal welfare is a human responsibility that includes consideration for all aspects of animal well-being, including proper housing, management, nutrition, disease prevention and treatment, responsible care, humane handling, and, when necessary, humane euthanasia,” the Web site says.

The American Veterinary Medical Association, founded in 1863, describes itself as one of the oldest and largest veterinary medical organizations in the world.

The Humane Society of the United States, an advocacy group, has long expressed frustration with AVMA for not taking a stronger stand on animal protection and animal abuses.

"All too often, the AVMA sides with animal-use industries, and not with animals," said HSUS President and CEO Wayne Pacelle in January 2008. That’s when Pacelle announced that the Humane Society of the United States was joining forces with the Association of Veterinarians for Animal Rights to create a new veterinary advocacy organization called the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association.

“The Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association will be a voice for the vast majority of veterinarians not in the employ of industries that do harm to animals," Pacelle said at the time.

AVMA denied the accusation that it sides with industry. It explained that its response to animal welfare questions are “science-based and practical,” involving the entire system of animal care.

“Often, changing one aspect of a system (e.g., removing hens from cages and putting them on range) may seem to be an easy way to improve the animals' welfare; however, changing one aspect of a system without consideration for how that aspect interacts with other features of that system (e.g., ability to control disease and predators) can result in poorer, rather than better, animal welfare,” AVMA noted in January 2008.

Amending the Veterinarian's Oath was no small proposal, said AVMA Executive Board Chair John R. Brooks. But the board was right to approve the changes, he said, because the updated oath reinforces veterinarians' responsibilities to promote animal welfare and is consistent with contemporary veterinary medicine.

"The message is we as the AVMA and veterinarians in general do recognize that protecting animal well-being is what we're all about," Dr. Brooks said.

In revising the Veterinarian’s Oath, AVMA’s Animal Welfare Committee says it reviewed some of the promises made by veterinarians in other countries.

Most English-speaking countries whose oaths the committee was able to obtain include mention of animal welfare, according to Nixon. However, he added that it was not the committee's intention to copy other countries with regard to their veterinarians' expression of commitment.