Delegates from the 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and several allied organizations gathered Jan 5-7 in Chicago for the fourth Informational Assembly of the AVMA House of Delegates.
The assembly aims to bring delegates up-to-date on the issues they'll be voting on at their session in July, giving them time to consider their opinions and solicit input from their constituencies.
This year, House Advisory Committee chairman Dr. David L. McCrystle presided, and the delegates discussed several issues that may affect the Association and the veterinary profession in upcoming months and years.
Dr. Taylor Bennett, delegate from the American Society of Laboratory Animal Practitioners and member of the AVMA Panel on Euthanasia, addresses the HOD Jan 6 regarding the panel's controversial report.
Euthanasia panel report controversy
Although the HOD has no official say in the matter, one of the most contentious issues raised at the assembly was the report of the AVMA Panel on Euthanasia.
The document sets standards for humane euthanasia that are used by many in the animal care community, including shelters and research facilities. The panel has come under fire in recent months for its alleged failure to allow groups from which it had solicited advice adequate time to respond to a draft copy of the report.
"I think one of the biggest messages that I heard is that it's not so much what's in the report that some people are having a problem with—it's the due process that wasn't done," said Dr. McCrystle.
The report currently in use was issued in 1993, and in November 1998 the Executive Board appointed a 17-member panel of experts in various fields to update it. The panel presented the final version of its report to the Executive Board at its July 19, 2000 meeting, and the board approved the document for publication. The board has final say over the report.
Two days later, on July 21, the HOD voted to disapprove the board's action because of the procedural concerns. Although the vote could not halt the publication or alter the board's decision, it served to send a message to the board.
After that decision, board members received letters, e-mails, and phone calls—from delegates as well as groups involved in the process—expressing concern about the report. The Executive Board met again in November 2000 and voted to delay publication "indefinitely."
"We decided it would be appropriate if we responded to our constituents," Dr. Jan E. Bartels, Executive Board chairman, told the HOD.
Several delegates at the January 2001 session said they thought the report needed to be either published or discarded immediately. Euthanasia panel members spoke in defense of the document and the process, emphasizing the ever-changing nature of the scientific literature the report is based on and the difficulty of reaching a consensus among all 17 experts.
"This document is not perfect; it will never be perfect," said Dr. Taylor Bennett, panel member and delegate from the American Society of Laboratory Animal Practitioners. "But none of your names are on it. Mine is, and it doesn't bother me if it gets published. We voted as members. I won some, I lost some [content decisions]—and I think that's the process."
When Dr. McCrystle asked for a straw vote on the issue, many delegates said they were unsure how to respond because they had never seen the document. Several said they did not want to be held accountable for approving something controversial without reading it first.
"Somebody else may have written it, but it's the AVMA's policy, and we're the representatives to the AVMA who will have voted on it," said Virginia delegate Dr. Steven Rogers. "I think we are entitled to read it."
Others said they probably wouldn't be in a position to evaluate the document even if they had received it, and that they wouldn't have access to all the background information the panel had used.
"We've chosen a group of experts, of people who deal with this problem every day," said Dr. William Haines, the alternate delegate from Connecticut. "I think we have to have a certain amount of faith in those people we've asked to do this task."
In the straw vote—a vote with no weight—no delegates voiced opposition to publishing the report, and roughly the same number abstained as voiced approval.
After the assembly, the Executive Board voted unanimously by fax to rescind their November decision and publish the report. The report is published in this issue (see pages 669-696)
Calling 2002 a "pivotal year" financially for the AVMA, treasurer Dr. James F. Peddie reaffirmed to delegates that a rise in dues would be necessary that year to avoid financial troubles, and called for a $25 increase.
Dr. Peddie said that as of Nov 30, 2000, the AVMA was in good financial shape, but a number of additional costs would arise in 2002. Legal costs from the pending lawsuit against the AVMA by the Western University of Health Sciences could run between $500,000 and $1 million per year for the next five to six years if the action progresses, he said, and the Association's insurance would cover only a portion of the cost.
In addition, the AVMA staff recently received a "much-needed" pay raise to attract candidates to fill positions that have been approved but are still vacant and to become competitive in the marketplace. The Association will also incur expenses for a number of special projects in 2002, including almost $300,000 for the development of a new promotional video about veterinary medicine.
"You've heard me say that the two fuels that power any organization are people and money," Dr. Peddie said. "Good and great things are occurring in our profession; we're growing and moving, and I do not want to see us run out of one of the two fuels we need to sustain this positive activity."
The last time the Association took an action to increase dues was in 1994, with the raise going into effect in 1995.
GRD: Lease it, buy it, or build it?
On July 14, 2002, the lease expires on the portion of the Washington, DC, building that the AVMA Governmental Relations Division shares with two other veterinary organizations.
The building now costs $24 per square foot per year, but Dr. Bartels said real estate agents estimate that the cost might increase to about $36 in 2002. Because of the price hike, the Association is considering buying or building a new facility instead of renewing the lease.
Last June, the Executive Board appointed AVMA Executive Vice President Dr. Bruce W. Little, GRD Director Dr. Niall B. Finnegan, and Treasurer Dr. Peddie to a committee to investigate real estate options. The committee has not reached any conclusions about whether to rent, lease, buy, or build, but they will move quickly, Dr. Bartels said. "We'll be fiscally conservative, but we have to make some type of move and decision within the next 18 months," he said.
WesternU lawsuit update
Dr. Bartels also gave a brief update on the WesternU lawsuit. The university is suing the AVMA because its proposed veterinary college failed to earn a letter of reasonable insurance of accreditation from the AVMA Council on Education. He assured the HOD that a liaison committee of the council has been trying to help WesternU meet the two accreditation standards it has not fulfilled.
Lawyers for both sides were to determine in January and February who to depose and what evidence to collect, Dr. Bartels said.
The PAC dinner challenge
Dr. Mark H. Trueblood, chairman of the AVMA Political Action Committee Policy Board, announced at the HOD assembly that Sen Edward Kennedy (D-Mass) would be speaking at the PAC fund-raising dinner at this summer's AVMA Annual Convention in Boston.
Dr. Trueblood issued a challenge to each state and allied group delegate to sell tickets for a full table to the fund-raiser. More details on the dinner will be available in an upcoming issue.