Ah...the AVMA...

I most always stay far far away from this issue because I have mixed feelings pertaining to the organization that tries hard to unite vets. However, I'm a little fired up today and may well offer you a little political post-- especially since Stefani lit that fire under my butt with her comment on my animal terrorist post from 12/30.

I am an AVMA member. The vast majority of vets are members of American Veterinary Medical Association. It is the one body to which all vets try to pledge allegiance, knowing that unity among vets makes us more powerful, more capable of affecting the world around us.

As a large organization, however, it's bound to harbor its fair share of detractors among its ranks. These are people that, like me, send in their membership dues annually without fail--but not without a nagging sense of hypocrisy. We find fault with the organization on many fronts and yet we still contribute--for a variety of reasons:

Without a membership I'm incapable of securing group medical malpractice insurance. (My employers do not allow me to "go bare." Nor would any practice owner that I know of.)  Without a membership I might also find myself with no access to an affordable group health insurance policy should my employer fail to provide one for me--or were I to retire before government support is available.

Without a membership, you can also argue I'd have no claim to opine on the animal terrorism bill or any other significant issue from within the AVMA. My voice would be rendered far less credible--even (especially!) were I to decline my renewal in protest.

Why? Because veterinarians outside the AVMA system are few and far between. The percentage of non-member vets is very low compared to that of human doctors outside the AMA, for example. For that reason, non-members are typically frowned upon for their lack of loyalty or misplaced sense of brotherhood or whatever. (AVMA protesters and boycotters are considered radicals.)

As to the nature of my quarrel with the AVMA I will not dwell on specifics in this post. I will instead present a short summary of general principles that affect how I (and other oft-frustrated members) feel about our professional organization's work.

Preamble: I won't hide the fact that I've worked as a lobbyist on behalf of the AVMA (albeit for a short time). Be that as it may, I consequently lay claim to more knowledge on the inner-workings of the organization than most vets. People may disagree with me but at least my opinions are informed. Here goes:

IMO, the AVMA is a backward-looking organization more concerned with protecting our reputations and our bottom lines than in having a real impact on legislation or on major US policy decisions.

The power base in the organization is overwhelmingly white, male, wealthy and Middle American (and I say that in the nicest of ways). Although respectable and capable, they lack the vision and drive to achieve any but the most conservative change in society with respect to animal stewardship.

I believe the AVMA is loathe to work on any but the tamest, most inconsequential forms of animal welfare issues due largely to the diversity in our membership. Our profession is made up of one burgeoning mass of small animal healthcare providers and one dwindling (but powerful) group of old-school, agriculturally inclined veterinarians.

This makes decision-making among even the most efficient, rank-and-file AVMA do-gooders an extremely difficult proposition. How do you organize the workings of an organization with two such disparate cultures? They are not just different cultures, they are opposing cultures, often at loggerheads with one another's goals. It's no wonder very little substantive work comes from their efforts.

Here's an example: foie gras. Q. How do you tell a suburban soccer-mom and vegetarian vet with a penchant for saving cats in her community that  the AVMA won't  take a solid stand on banning certain kinds of foie gras production? A. Tell her the avian veterinary community is afraid that any inroads into regulation of traditional forms of animal agriculture will eventually strike at the heart of their income stream.

This is what the AVMA has to deal with. One side is always pitted against the other. You'd think the balance of power might have shifted to the small animal group long ago. But the traditional paradigm still holds in the AVMA. We remain balanced at old world order standards based on AVMA constitutional principles that promote geographic and practice-type diversity among our governing representatives.

Most members, non-political as we vets tend to be, are perfectly happy to sit on the sidelines and watch things happen (or not happen, as is more often the case) with respect to real change in how animals are treated. It's a lot easier to focus on how well the organization handles the issues of education, economics and public health. And all of these are worthy issues. But...

How about our Veterinarian's Oath? The first two points to which we vets have to pledge include the protection of animal health and the alleviation of suffering. Public health and scientific advancement are soon to follow, but I see the AVMA leaving the first two topics well alone by comparison.

Why? Because we'll never agree on any policy that makes even one group's livelihood more difficult. Never mind our overarching mission in life. Never mind that our job, all day long, is to promote the rights of our patients to secure healthcare and avoid suffering.

I am by no means a radical animal rights freak. I despise any criminal or violent acts some organizations might use to save animals. Furthermore, I have a hard time with the assertion that animals should not be used by humans for food or for science. My views are pretty tame, really. So it seems shocking to me that the AVMA can't even begin to properly represent even the most moderate among us or promote even the simplest animal welfare agenda items.

I'm even beginning to worry. When is this negligent position on animal welfare going to turn around and bite our profession on the backside? Milquetoast proclamations and lukewarm resolutions in lieu of real action don't make organizations any friends--they leave you exposed to your enemies. Vague pronouncements might keep members placated but those of us who know better might soon be in a position to say: I told you so.

You might well argue that the AVMA and its veterinary constituency have a somewhat dysfunctional marriage. But it's ours...for better or worse.