The Internal Morality of the Veterinary Profession

PhD-project of Svenja Springer

Due to an increasing number of diagnostic and therapeutic options, practical veterinarians are more often challenged to reflect on whether all available therapeutic possibilities should be exhausted. Artificial hip joints, dialysis, cardiac pacemaker, state-of-the-art imaging techniques and the flourishing branch of oncology are standards in today’s veterinary medicine. Veterinarian´s and owner´s responsibilities extend to new and far reaching issues that cannot be answered by referring to medical reasons alone: is there a moral responsibility to use high-tech devices to diagnose a disease as early, as comprehensively and as profoundly as possible? Is there a moral obligation to use high tech in veterinary practice even when owners’ financial possibilities are exhausted? In brief, high tech has changed and will continue change the scope of clinical and ethical decision-making processes in veterinary practice.

Against this background the project starts from the assumption that technological innovations influence veterinarians’ professional responsibilities and have normative implications on crucial medical concepts such as “diagnosis”, “therapy” and “prognosis”. This will be examined in the field of oncology. Uncertainties and insecurities, which are triggered by high tech in oncology, will allow for the explication of crucial moral dimensions of the veterinary profession. Therewith, this interdisciplinary project will investigate the moral cornerstones of veterinary medicine and explicate its moral infrastructure, what has been coined the Internal Morality of Veterinary Medicine (IMVM).

The focus of the project lies on a systematic approach that comprises a theoretical and an empirical part. We aim at gaining empirical data regarding veterinarians’ uncertainties and strategies when using high tech in clinical practice. The first step (theoretical part) of the project will be to elaborate key aspects of veterinary practice in order to formulate case vignettes (real life scenarios) for a subsequent focus group study. Second, the focus group study will be carried out in order to develop hypotheses for a questionnaire-based survey (empirical part). Consequently, a survey will be conducted among Austrian practicing veterinarians. The gained empirical data will provide insights into major aspects in the veterinary profession and extend our knowledge of the IMVM. Therefore, this interdisciplinary research project, which comprises veterinary medical aspects, veterinary medical ethics and empirical social science, will contribute to the emerging field of veterinary ethics and its institutionalisation.

In terms of potential consequences, this project will contribute to a better and empirically informed understanding of the present conflicts and ethical dilemmas veterinarians’ are faced with. Further, there is a high probability that the results will not only be of interest for the research community but also for teaching programs in veterinary medicine.

project term: July 2017 - May 2020

project number: P 29974

Funded by


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