This article explores how the concept of consent to medical treatment applies in the veterinary context, and aims to evaluate normative justifications for owner consent to treatment of animal patients. We trace the evolution of the test for valid consent in human health decision-making, against a backdrop of increased recognition of the importance of patient rights and a gradual judicial espousal of a doctrine of informed consent grounded in a particular understanding of autonomy. We argue that, notwithstanding the adoption of a similar discourse of informed consent in professional veterinary codes, notions of autonomy and informed consent are not easily transferrable to the veterinary medicine context, given inter alia the tripartite relationship between veterinary professional, owner and animal patient. We suggest that a more appropriate, albeit inexact, analogy may be drawn with paediatric practice which is premised on a similarly tripartite relationship and where decisions must be reached in the best interests of the child. However, acknowledging the legal status of animals as property and how consent to veterinary treatment is predicated on the animal owner’s willingness and ability to pay, we propose that the appropriate response is for veterinary professionals generally to accept the client’s choice, provided this is informed. Yet such client autonomy must be limited where animal welfare concerns exist, so that beneficence continues to play an important role in the veterinary context. We suggest that this ‘middle road’ should be reflected in professional veterinary guidance.
- Informed consent
- Veterinary medicine