Veterinarians Are Running Scared

i August 10, 2009

In ISAR’s monograph Harming Companion Animals: Liability and Damages we make the categorical statement that “Even though most of the harm to companion animals results from veterinary malpractice [obviously we were not talking about breeders], Harming Companion Animals should not be taken as a criticism (let alone a condemnation) of all veterinarians. On the contrary. Although among the thousands and thousands of veterinarians in the United States there are some bad apples—just as in the medical, legal, and all other professions—the vast majority of veterinarians and their staffs are caring, dedicated, competent, healers who feel deeply about the animals they treat. For them, all of us who share our lives with companion animals are eternally grateful.” (Page 7. Emphasis in original.)

Apparently the issue of veterinarian “bad apples” which ISAR addressed in our “Harming” monograph, and which is a sore spot for all custodians of companion animals, has finally gotten the attention of the American Veterinary Medical Association.

Here, under date of August 1, 2009, is an article from the “javma news”:

The AVMA will turn a fledgling veterinary outreach program to law schools and the legal community into an ongoing activity.

The Executive Board approved the State Advocacy Committee’s recommendation to continue the Legal Outreach Program.

The program has been around since April 2008 when the board approved its creation. It provides a veterinary perspective to the legal community on animal law issues. Veterinarians who have practiced in a clinical setting and attorneys familiar with this area provide law students, lawyers, and veterinary students with background information on the unintended consequences of awarding noneconomic damages.

Background information provided with the recommendation states that many of the law school and continuing education programs for lawyers are taught or presented by the Animal Legal Defense Fund, The Humane Society of the United States, or other animal rights proponents. The veterinary perspective in these courses has been almost nonexistent. Most of the time, law students and lawyers are not aware that there may be another side to the story on complicated issues such as pet guardianship and noneconomic damages.

The state legislative and regulatory affairs department in the AVMA Communications Division has contacted 19 law schools so far, developed a PowerPoint presentation, assembled a roster of 20 speakers, and conducted a training webinar for speakers. In all, the program coordinated eight presentations in fall 2008 and spring 2009, with several planned for this fall.

Originally, the board allocated $5,400 for 2008 and $16,250 for 2009 to cover speaker compensation, travel expenses, and speaker training for the program. Adrian Hochstadt, JD, assistant director for state legislative and regulatory affairs, said the cost was not as great as anticipated, and the program will be under budget for both years. Savings were realized as a result of using AVMA staff or local speakers and holding a webinar instead of in-person training sessions.

The board approved funding the program now at a cost of about $7,000 annually. (Emphasis supplied.)

When ISAR learned of this program—which the American Veterinary Medical Association has every right to present—an ISAR staffer sought additional information: “I read that you have assembled a roster of 20 speakers for your program. Can you direct me to where I might find that list and when they will be speaking? Do you have an itinerary that you can email?”

An AVMA lawyer responded by asking whether we were “interested in a program at a particular school?”

Our response: “I interpreted this to mean that this coming fall you will have speakers presenting your point of view at several law schools, and I’m wondering what law schools and who are the speakers.”

AVMA: “I would need to know what is the purpose of the request.”

At that point, ISAR broke off “communication” with the AVMA’s lawyer, even though our intention was to open a dialogue about the issue of non-economic damages for the intentional and negligent harm to companion animals. We wanted to know the organization’s official position.

Own research has obtained that information.

In the July/August 2009 issue of the General Practice, Solo & Small Firm Division magazine of the American Bar Association there appears an article by the AVMA’s president and the lawyer with whom ISAR had been in contact, from the organization’s State Legislative and Regulatory Affairs Department.

They ask: “What’s wrong . . . with recognizing an owner’s claim for pain and suffering, emotional distress, loss of companionship—in short ‘non–economic’ damages—arising from a wrongful pet loss in cases of professional negligence?”

Excellent question. Actually a question we wanted to ask the AVMA before it began to treat ISAR like someone trying to ferret out a military secret.

Their answer cites “unintended negative consequences” and “harm [to] the very animals we seek to protect.”

The argument the authors develop is lengthy. Some of it is persuasive, some specious. ISAR encourages its supporters to read the article because it is obviously an opening salvo in organized veterinary medicine’s current campaign against state legislatures allowing non-economic damages for harming companion animals.

This is a hot subject and ISAR will have a lot to say about it in the future, because the “animals-as-property” problem is among those at the core of the animal rights philosophy.