Animal Advocacy: Challenging the Veterinary Status Quo Outside Your Comfort Zone
I’m all in favor of challenging the status quo; more so when it’s to do with something I’ve been schooled in. Nonetheless, I have plenty of veterinary colleagues who believe that unless you’ve been raised, steeped, educated and practiced in a certain field, you don’t deserve to speak your mind on the subject — much less when it comes to controversial issues.
In other words, if you’re a small animal veterinarian you don’t deserve to mouth off about antimicrobial resistance issues or animal welfare in agricultural settings, for example. Your voice isn’t wanted. In fact, it’s typically resented.
It’s an attitude that, conveniently, only serves to allow foxes to keep on guarding hen houses with impunity. That’s what I say. Because it’s clear to me that whether we’re talking about Wall Street, tabloid journalism or veterinary medicine, we all need outside influences to help keep us honest, ethical, and to help ensure we’re working to acceptable standards — whether we like what they have to say or not. And in the context of vet med, who better to opine than a fellow colleague, outside your immediate milieu though she may be?
Which is why I wrote a letter to the editor of the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (JAVMA, July 15th) calling out a speaker who’s popular within veterinary medicine’s agricultural communities. In this case, I was stunned that in a keynote speech to our leading group of swine veterinarians, he’d compared slavery to swine husbandry (yes, he did!).
Obviously, I’d have to have my say on the subject lest this speaker’s cancer persist in my profession and metastasize elsewhere within it:
[How] could any speaker presenting at the highest levels of our profession be so impenetrably tone-deaf to American culture that he would offer racist imagery in a public forum? How could we, as a profession, accept this kind of shock-talk pontification? And where was the American Association of Swine Veterinarians' public call for an apology? After all, American sportscasters have been fired for far less insensitive offenses.
If this kind of rhetoric is what passes for scholarly discourse at the highest levels of our specialty organizations, what does that say about the current trajectory of veterinary medicine? If anything, I believe it raises serious concerns about our collective values. At the very least, it questions the ethical underpinnings of our profession.
Makes sense that someone would have to say something about an offense so egregious — whether she’s a swine veterinarian or not. Yet when I’ve spoken out on non-small animal issues like this before (as when I’ve written columns on antimicrobial resistance, the shortage of rural veterinarians, and dehorning in cattle, for example), I’ve been called out for speaking out of turn.
As if what happens in one segment of veterinary medicine, or in another profession altogether, can only be addressed by those within. After all, if that were the case, slavery would still be a legal practice and child pornography an acceptable trade.
Nonetheless, I do have to wonder whether statements made outside certain circles can penetrate walls well enough to make a difference. That’s where I was coming from in Monday’s post when asking whether Dr. Nicholas Dodman’s letter to the editor on equine welfare (coincidentally, in the same JAVMA mine appeared) would fall on the AAEP’s deaf ears.
Though some criticized me in the comments below the post for taking the tack that none but an AAEP member need opine, I was merely (selfishly) musing on whether my letter would have any impact at all.
Hmmmm … I wondered, I’ve heard nothing from the swine folks yet. Could it be that they’ll ignore my words altogether? That nothing I could say, even in the most well-read, well-regarded publication in our profession could bring them to change their practices (or at least their choice of speakers)?
It’s worth thinking about. Because whether we’re talking race-day drugging and the AAEP, or offensively politicized and obnoxiously polarizing speeches in the swine practitioners’ organization, outside influences should be ignored only at their peril.
Dr. Patty Khuly