February 15, 2008

 

 Veterinarian professes ignorance on euthanasia statute - February 15, 2008

 
posted February 1, 2008
 

Charges filed against a Tennessee veterinarian come as a reminder that practitioners must adhere to state laws and regulations involving animal restraint and euthanasia as well as to standards of conduct established by the veterinary profession.

This past November, a Nashville TV station aired an undercover video that allegedly showed Dr. William E. Baber of Gallatin using illegal methods to euthanize animals at the Sumner County Animal Shelter. The county district attorney asked the sheriff's office to investigate.

Dr. Baber was arrested Jan. 3 and charged with 12 misdemeanor offenses—two counts of "unlawful intracardial injection" in dogs, two counts of unverified deaths of dogs, two counts of unverified deaths of cats, two counts of cruelty to animals (dogs), two counts of cruelty to animals (cats), and two counts of falsifying government records.

Dr. Baber was scheduled to appear in General Sessions Court on the criminal charges Jan. 16, but the case was continued to Feb. 6.

In November, the Tennessee Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners summarily suspended Dr. Baber's license to practice but lifted the suspension several days later, deciding he did not pose a threat to public health and safety. In December, the board fined him and suspended his license to practice until April, when it decides whether to revoke his license. The board cited the following violations:

  • engaging in gross malpractice or a pattern of continued or repeated malpractice, ignorance, negligence, or incompetence in the course of practicing veterinary medicine
  • unprofessional or unethical conduct or engaging in practices in connection with the practice of veterinary medicine that are in violation of the standards of professional conduct
  • conduct reflecting unfavorably upon the profession of veterinary medicine
  • professional incompetence
  • leaving nonlivestock animals unattended during euthanasia procedures and before death occurs, and not confirming death before disposal of the body

According to the veterinary board, in or around 2005-2007, Dr. Baber failed to euthanize animals in accordance with the methods prescribed by the Non-Livestock Animal Humane Death Act in Tenn. Code Ann. § 44-17-303. That state law requires that the animal be heavily sedated, anesthetized, or comatose if euthanized by "intracardial" injection of sodium pentobarbital or such other agents. The board states that Dr. Baber injected the animals with sodium pentobarbital "in the chest (not an intercardial injection)" while they were not heavily sedated, anesthetized, or comatose.

At his disciplinary hearing, Dr. Baber maintained he was unaware that the state statute was changed in 1982 to prohibit intracardial injection without sedation. He said, "If I had known about this statute change, that would have solved a lot of this."

The 1982 University of Tennessee graduate, who also owns a private practice, does not face disciplinary action from the AVMA because he is not a member.

The AVMA Web site provides links to state resources, including each veterinary practice act and administrative rules affecting veterinarians. Go to www.avma.org, click on the Advocacy bar, State Legislative Resources, and Resources by State.

The method allegedly used by Dr. Baber is also not consistent with the AVMA Guidelines on Euthanasia, which are considered the gold standard. They state: "Intracardiac injection is acceptable only when performed on heavily sedated, anesthetized, or comatose animals." Further, the AVMA guidelines classify intrathoracic and other nonvascular injections of euthanasia agents as unacceptable. The euthanasia guidelines along with animal welfare policies on "Physical Restraint of Animals" and other guidance are available online by clicking on the dark blue Issues bar.