Veterinarians’ role in clients’ decision-making regarding seriously ill companion animal patients – University of Copenhagen

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26 May 2016

Veterinarians’ role in clients’ decision-making regarding seriously ill companion animal patients

S.B. Christiansen, A.T. Kristensen, J. Lassen & P. Sandøe (2016) 
Acta Veterinaria Scandinavica. 
BioMed Central

Abstract

Background - When companion animals become seriously ill clients may have doubts about treatment choices, if any, and turn to veterinarians for help. But how should veterinarians reply? Influence on clients’ decision-making may or may not be acceptable—depending on one’s attitude to principles such as ‘paternalism’, ‘respect for autonomy’ and ‘shared decision-making’. This study takes as a starting point a situation where the animal is chronically ill, or aged, with potentially reduced animal welfare and client quality of life, and thus where clients need to consider treatment options or euthanasia. It is assumed throughout that both veterinarians and clients have the animals’ best interest at heart. The purpose of the study was to explore the challenges these situations hold and to investigate how clients experience veterinary influence. A second aim was to reflect on the ethical implications of the role of veterinarians in these situations. Qualitative interviews were conducted with 12 dog owners considering treatment or euthanasia of their chronically ill or aged dogs.

Results - Challenges relating to the dog and to the client were identified. Some situations left the interviewees hesitant, e.g. if lacking a clear cut-off point, the dog appeared normal, the interviewee felt uncertain about treatments or animal welfare, or experienced conflicting concerns. Some interviewees found that veterinarians could influence their decisions. Such influence was received in different ways by the interviewees. Some interviewees wanted active involvement of the veterinarian in the decision-making process, and this may challenge a veterinarian’s wish to respect client autonomy.

Conclusions - Different preferences are likely to exist amongst both veterinarians and clients about veterinary involvement in clients’ decision-making, and such preferences may vary according to the situation. It is suggested, that one way to handle this challenge is to include respect for client preference on veterinary involvement under a wider understanding of respect for autonomy, and to apply models of shared decision-making to veterinary practice. In any case there is a need to further explore the challenges these situations raise, and for the veterinary profession to engage in more formal and structured deliberation over the role of veterinarians in relation to clients’ decision-making.

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