House passes updated ethics document, new transport policy

Delegates also approved a resolution honoring uniformed services veterinarians

Story and photo by R. Scott Nolen

Updated July 3, 2024

The AVMA House of Delegates (HOD) on June 21 voted to approve revisions to the Principles of Veterinary Medical Ethics (PVME) and a policy on the transport of animals during the regular annual session of the HOD in Austin, Texas, held concurrently with AVMA Convention 2024.

AVMA delegates also adopted a resolution honoring the service and sacrifice of veterinarians in the uniformed services.

Principles of Veterinary Medical Ethics

The PVME is intended to provide ethical guidance for all veterinarians. The revised version of the document has three fundamental principles that form the foundation of the PVME. These are aspirational goals for the veterinary profession. They are as follows:

  • Stewardship: Veterinarians have an ethical responsibility to alleviate suffering, promote health, and act in the best interests of their patients in balance with the interests of their clients, the environment, and the public.
  • Integrity: Veterinarians have an ethical responsibility to be honest and truthful in all interactions with clients, patients, and their community.
  • Respect: Veterinarians have an ethical responsibility to demonstrate respect to all patients, clients, and members of their community, including self and professional colleagues.
Female veterinarian stands with a horse and its owner
The revised Principles of Veterinary Medical Ethics (PVME) approved by the AVMA House of Delegates on June 21 has three fundamental principles that form the foundation of the PVME. These are aspirational goals for the veterinary profession, which provide guidance and offer justification for the Code of Conduct.

The AVMA House Advisory Committee (HAC) had recommended delegates approve the new PVME, along with the Board of Directors (BOD), who submitted the document to the HOD.

As the BOD explained in its proposal, the document has been restructured to improve clarity and usability.

For example, the PVME now features a Code of Conduct that comprises three sections: provide competent medical care, prioritize patient welfare in balance with client needs and public safety, and uphold standards of professionalism.

In the first section, when describing certain circumstances in which a veterinarian may decline to establish a veterinarian-client-patient relationship (VCPR) or provide care for an existing patient, wording was added to include the situation: “The client asked the veterinarian to act in an unethical manner.”

Under the second section, the portion that deals with contextual care had the phrase “be prepared to” added as well as language about referrals. It now reads, “A veterinarian should be prepared to offer a range of diagnostic, treatment, and when deemed appropriate, referral options that meet the needs of both the patient and the client.”

Also, wording that clarifies how to refer to veterinary specialists—meaning those individuals who have met the qualifications of an AVMA-recognized veterinary specialty organization—was added in the third section. It says, “The terms ‘board eligible’ or ‘board qualified’ are misleading and should not be used by veterinarians.”

Prior to voting on the revised PVME, delegates approved a handful of edits to the document. One of those changes was to say that a veterinarian should only represent those who are credentialed as a veterinary technician in their state as a “credentialed veterinary technician.”

The rationale provided for the change was that not every state recognizes or has credentialed veterinary technicians yet. If the wording wasn’t changed, then veterinarians in those states could be in violation of AVMA’s PVME by saying they employed “veterinary technicians.”

Animal transport

The new AVMA policy on “Transportation of Animals” reads as follows:

 “The AVMA supports the humane transport of animals. It is recommended that best practices be evidence-based and address the following at a minimum:

  • Animals must be evaluated and determined to be fit for transportation.
  • Handling methods, equipment, facilities, and transport vehicles must provide for the safety of animals and personnel, minimize stress and injury, and limit the transmission of disease.
  • The type of transport, transit time, age, and species of the animals being transported, climatic concerns, and the goal of optimizing animal welfare should be considered together to determine routes, rest stops, and whether the animals should be unloaded, fed, and watered.

We support guidance that has been developed in collaboration with experienced veterinarians, animal ethologists, animal welfare scientists, and species-specific transport experts. The AVMA also supports research focused on improving transport practices that consider the physical and affective states of animals.”

The revised policy was developed by the AVMA Animal Welfare Committee and submitted to the House by the BOD.

Uniformed services

The Michigan VMA (MVMA) submitted a resolution recognizing active and reserve military veterinarians of the uniformed services.

Consensus among the HOD was that the measure should encompass veterinarians in all branches of uniformed services, to include the Commissioned Corps of the U.S. Public Health Service and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Commissioned Officer Corps, to the language was amended to accomplish this. The MVMA supported the changes.

A person in military uniform stands in front of an American flag with arms crossed, holding a stethoscope
The AVMA House of Delegates have passed a resolution honoring veterinarians in the U.S. uniformed services, which includes the military, as well as the Commissioned Corps of the U.S. Public Health Service.

The resolution adopted by the HOD reads as follows:

“Resolved, that the American Veterinary Medical Association acknowledges and commends the outstanding contributions and achievements of the active and reserve component veterinarians of the Uniformed Services of the United States of America. Their work at home and abroad in peacekeeping, animal medicine, research development and public health should be highly honored. These veterinarians serve a vital role in building and maintaining animal care and human health domestically and internationally. Their sacrifice for the world community and the citizens of the United States is beyond reproach and a shining example of how these members serve their country. The American Veterinary Medical Association would also like to recognize the role of families who serve along with their loved ones. Their sacrifices are equally as vital and important as our service men and women. In closing, The American Veterinary Medical Association would like to thank all current and former Uniformed Services veterinarians for everything they have done for all of us.”