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Code of Ethics

Status: Closed
Feedback Deadline: August 23, 2019

Report on Consultation 

Consultation Period: July 12 – August 23, 2019 

Submissions: 31 responses using the survey tool, 5 responses on the public consultation tool, 2 email responses were received, 1 written submission from a stakeholder 

Background on Consultation 

The Code of Ethics was introduced by the College in December 2015. It outlines 6 core values that guide ethical behavior of veterinarians, including professionalism and competence. Based on a proposed conceptual framework that distinguishes professionalism from competence and ethics, the Quality Assurance Committee determined in August 2017 that work on the Code of Ethics to align it with the framework was needed. Since then, Council approved the Definition of Veterinary Professionalism in March 2018, and introduced the document, Guidance on Professionalism for Veterinarians. The College, through Strategy 2020, has placed a strong emphasis on promoting professionalism in the practice of veterinary medicine. Aligning the Code of Ethics with the Definition of Veterinary Professionalism supports this initiative. 

In May 2018, the Quality Assurance Committee reviewed the Code of Ethics and identified areas needing revision. Several drafts of the Code of Ethics were subsequently reviewed, and a proposed draft version of the Code of Ethics was presented to Council in March 2019. The decision of Council was to direct the Quality Assurance Committee to continue to work on the draft. 

On June 19, 2019, the proposed revised Code of Ethics was reviewed and approved by Council for consultation. 

General questions were proposed as part of the consultation process: 

  • Does the Code of Ethics provide guidance to veterinarians to support ethical decision-making? 
  • Is the Code of Ethics clearly written and understandable?
  • Does having this Code of Ethics protect the public interest? If not, please comment on what other ethics-based risks exist, and how they might be mitigated through policy? 
  • Are there any ethical principles not included in the Code of Ethics that would be helpful for veterinarians to guide ethical behaviour? o If so, what are they? 
  • Do you have any other suggested amendments or comments for Council’s consideration?

The prevalent theme in the feedback provided from respondents was that the revised draft Code of Ethics is clearly written, easily understandable, and supports veterinarians in ethical decision-making as well as protecting the public interest. A letter from the Ontario Veterinary Medical Association also indicated general support for the direction that the Code of Ethics outlines and that the draft document sets a clear expectation from the College and provides protection to patients’ welfare and safety.

Overview of Feedback

Overall, the responses showed that stakeholders supported the changes to the revised draft Code of Ethics:

Supports ethical decision-making

87% of respondents agreed that the Code provides guidance to veterinarians to support ethical decision-making.

Clear and understandable

90% of respondents agreed that the Code is clearly written and understandable. 

Protects the public interest

87% of respondents agreed that having the Code protects the public interest. 

Additional Comments

The following quotes, summarized from comments received, reflect issues raised during the consultation:

  • The problem is that we can write down a code of ethics; and what has been written is excellent, but it will only be effective if veterinarians self-reflect and work on their own mental health and personal growth. I really like the concepts of personal care and honesty.
  • Thank you for the opportunity to comment. Thank you for acknowledging that sometimes there may be conflicts in our obligations. The use of the word PRIMARY in the following sentence does not sit well with me. "Recognize that their primary role is to identify the interests of the animal in consideration of the circumstances and act in the animal’s interests". If acting in an animal's interest conflicts with human health and safety, then the PRIMARY role of the veterinarian is to protect the latter. When the two conflict, the guiding principle/ethic is to protect human health, not to act in the animal's interests. Consider test and slaughter programs, the depopulation of elk, etc. The primary role is not the interest of the animal - it is public health & safety.
  • I have a hard time seeing how to reconcile this code of ethics with veterinary activities in animal research and experimentation or in intensive farming where animal welfare is suboptimal. Above all do no harm is certainly not addressed in those activities, nor is the veterinarian's oath. Same with medically unnecessary surgery like ear cropping and feline declawing.
  • Excellent document, very helpful, thanks to the Council!
  • Should consider the client's ability to pay in presenting a range of options for both diagnosis and treatment. Unfortunately, I have worked in a clinic that pressured me to do more tests than I thought was necessary as they were more profitable. "Upselling" should have no place in medicine.
  • The preamble should refer to the "Guidance on Professionalism for Veterinarians" document as the two are related. That document provides a definition of "professionalism" that speaks to the expected behaviours outlined in the "Code of Ethics"
  • I think this is very well done. Thank you for all your hard work. It does seem to have a bit of a companion animal practitioner's slant to it. Veterinarians will play an increasingly important role in One Health). I would re-read it through this lens and perhaps include a broader view of collaboration (under Professionalism) beyond continuity of patient care.
  • There was a comment somewhere on the page mentioning, "being open to other perspectives." This is a little too open-ended for my liking. There are absolutely some perspectives with which I do not agree, and I hope to have the freedom to continue to do so.
  • There should be a set list/procedure of consequences for not following the document. i.e. warning, suspension, revocation of license. Acknowledgment of reading the document should be part of the annual license renewal. A guidance document should be created to explain in depth each of the principles and examples of unacceptable behavior…
  • The Core values should be grouped into THREE categories: 1. Transparency and Trustworthiness 2. Compassion and Respect 3. Professionalism and Competence. The current grouping into six values creates duplication, redundancy and confusion: i.e. maintaining competency is listed under trustworthiness and under competence; being accountable and truthful is under transparency, while being honest and reliable are under trustworthiness. If you are honest you are transparent, transparency creates trust. The division is artificial. 
  • It might be better to not use the term professionalism to describe the expected behaviour, but maybe something like - "Veterinarians act professionally" (?)
Council December 2019 Discussion and Decision

The Quality Assurance Committee considered the stakeholder feedback and suggested revisions to the Code of Ethics. Some of the significant changes included: a link to the Guidance on Professionalism for Veterinarians and wording that better distinguished professionalism as a Instilling public confidence in veterinary regulation. core value; wording to better reflect the veterinarian’s duty to animals; and formatting changes to group the core values into three categories to remove duplication and redundancy. Other minor edits were made to the draft document with consideration to comments received during the consultation. 

This report and a revised draft Code of Ethics was received by the Council of the College on December 5 & 6, 2019. Council approved the draft Code of Ethics as amended.