Researching consent in veterinary practice: The use of interpretive description as a multidisciplinary methodology

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Informed consent in the veterinary sphere has been surprisingly under-researched, despite it being a professional ethical requirement. As consent is given by animal owners on behalf of patients who are unable to consent for themselves, its underpinning ethical basis cannot exactly mirror consent given by adult human patients with capacity. Any attempt to research consent in the veterinary context requires consideration of its legal, ethical and practical applications. This investigation of consent practices in veterinary settings in the United Kingdom was undertaken using interpretation of medicolegal cases, together with three discrete empirical studies comprising the textual analysis of consent forms, consent discussions for the elective neutering of companion animal patients, and interviews with key participants in the consent process. The chosen approach required a methodology that would facilitate triangulation between empirical data analysis and doctrinal legal research. Here, I describe the first use of interpretive description as a methodology of veterinary socio-legal studies, in the context of practice-based research. With foundations in traditional social science methodologies such as hermeneutics, grounded theory, ethnography and symbolic interactionism, interpretive description provided a multi-disciplinary methodological perspective. Its underpinning methodologies informed the methods that were used for data collection, and for subsequent analysis. I combined interpretation of legal decisions and professional ethical guidance with thematic surveys of empirical data to reach higher levels of analysis. The resulting conceptual description of consent in veterinary practice enabled the production of normative guidance appropriate for those in practice, thus fulfilling the methodological aims of interpretive description. Specifically, the key findings were that the consent form should act as a fuller record of the consent discussion, that attention should be paid to achieving an appropriate balance between client autonomy and patient ‘best interests’ and that consent should provide protection to all three parties (client, patient and veterinary professional).
Original languageEnglish
JournalMethodological Innovations
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Interpretive description
  • informed consent
  • methodology
  • sociolegal studies
  • veterinary


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