Reducing Moral Stress in Veterinary Teams? Evaluating the Use of Ethical Discussion Groups in Charity Veterinary Hospitals

Vanessa Ashall*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This study examines experiences of veterinary moral stress in charity veterinary practice and qualitatively evaluates the role of ethical discussion in reducing veterinary moral stress. Results are drawn from a thematic data analysis of 9 focus groups and 15 individual interviews with veterinary team members from 3 UK charity veterinary hospitals. Moral stress is described as an everyday experience by participants and is caused by uncertainty about their ability to fulfill their ethical obligations. Moral stress is shown to be cumulative and can interact with other forms of stress. Distinct practical and relational barriers to ethical action are identified and proposed as contributors to moral stress, and different team members experience different barriers within their roles. The potential impact of moral stress on team members’ quality of life and mental health is highlighted. Results show that regular facilitated ethical group discussions may reduce moral stress in the hospital setting, particularly through familiarization with others’ roles and ethical perspectives and through supporting one another’s ethical decision-making. The article concludes that moral stress is an important and poorly understood problem in veterinary practice and that further development of regular facilitated ethical group discussion may be of considerable benefit to team members.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1662
Number of pages21
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 17 May 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was funded by Wellcome Trust, grant numbers 223668/Z/21/Z and 219804/Z/19/Z. The APC was funded by The Wellcome Trust via York Open Access Fund.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 by the author.


  • animal
  • ethical dilemma
  • ethical discussion
  • euthanasia
  • mental health
  • moral stress
  • practical barrier
  • relational barrier
  • veterinary

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