Informed consent in veterinary medicine: Ethical implications for the profession and the animal 'patient'

Vanessa Ashall, Kate Millar, Pru Hobson-West

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Informed consent processes are a vital component of both human and veterinary medicine. Current practice encourages veterinarians to learn from insights in the human medical field about how best to achieve valid consent. However, drawing on published literature in veterinary and medical ethics, this paper identifies considerable differences between the purposes of veterinary and human medical consent. Crucially, it is argued that the legal status of animal patients as 'property' has implications for the ethical role of veterinary informed consent and the protection of the animal 'patient'. It is suggested that veterinary informed consent should be viewed as an ethical pivot point where the multiple responsibilities of a veterinary professional converge. In practice, balancing these responsibilities creates considerable ethical challenges. As an example, the paper discusses the renewed call for UK veterinarians to make animal welfare their first priority; we predict that this imperative may increasingly cause veterinary informed consent to become an ethical pressure point due to tensions caused by the often conflicting interests of animals, owners and the veterinary profession. In conclusion, the paper argues that whilst gaining informed consent can often be presented as a robust ethical justification in human medicine, the same cannot be said in veterinary medicine. If the veterinary profession wish to prioritise animal welfare, there is an urgent need to re-evaluate the nature of authority gained through owner informed consent and to consider whether animal patients might need to be better protected outside the consent process in certain circumstances.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)247-258
Number of pages12
JournalFood ethics
Issue number3
Early online date21 Aug 2017
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2018

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© The Author(s) 2017

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