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  • Identify basic legal issues in veterinary medicine. These include issues related to identifiably distinct categories of other animals: (1) wildlife; (2) companion animals; (3) research animals; and (4) farmed or food animals.
  • Read and understand JAVMA or other profession-based articles that deal with legal issues (for example, the August 11, 2006 issue of JAVMA includes a long article about confidentiality requirements that uses legal terms that one must be familiar with in order to comprehend this important article).
  • Identify and explain basic legal issues arising out of today’s veterinary medicine, including issues in veterinary education, the veterinary profession, and public health.

1. Introduction

We will look primarily at law, but also at ethics and practical issues--all of these issues are interwoven in everyday life and usually in very complex ways. One of our principal goals is to untangle them sufficiently so that you can, with regard to any problem you face, distinguish legal issues from ethical issues, ethical issues from practical issues, and so on.

Besides the general learning objectives noted on the homepage, the specific learning objectives in this course include the following--students should be able to:

  • Compare and contrast the categories of the 6 boxes diagram, and in particular be able to explain why the "law" box is a separate category in this diagram.

  • Define basic legal terms included in course materials.

  • Describe and give examples of the differences between professional ethics and law, and be able to explain the relationship of the AVMA's Principles of Veterinary Medical Ethics to the state practice acts' codes of professional conduct.

  • Distinguish and be able to employ properly each element of the SePACKProSo acronym regarding any fact situation.

  • Explain the major positions stated in the AVMA's Principles of Veterinary Medical Ethics.

  • Describe the role of state practice acts, and the details of specified major sections of the Massachusetts practice act.

  • Explain at least these basics about the American legal system:

    • difference between torts and contracts

    • difference between federal versus state jurisdiction (relevant to many categories of other animals, and to regulations)

    • ways in which discovery in the legal system can impact veterinarians even when they are not involved in lawsuits

  • Identify and explain the prevailing legal standard for malpractice in veterinary medicine.

  • Compare and contrast the basic classifications used in American law regarding other animals.

  • Explain how a veterinarian can locate the provisions of existing state law regarding veterinary issues generally and wildlife issues more specifically.

  • Identify the principal Massachusetts government institution responsible for the state practice act and regulations pertaining to veterinary medicine.

2. Course Requirements

  1. Participation is required and will be part of the grade (computation of grades is discussed in Section IV below). Participation in this course has multiple components weighed equally.

    1. Regular attendance is required.

    2. Involvement in class and group discussions--I count sleeping in class as noninvolvement.

    3. Grades on "minutes papers" and quizzes (described below) count as part of your participation grade because they reflect your preparation for class sessions by doing course work and reading.

  2. Course Readings. All required materials are either in this Materials Syllabus or posted. Recommended materials are posted or are listed below.

  3. Minutes Papers and Quizzes. "Minutes papers" are written exercises handed out in class that can be answered in one or, at most, a few minutes--hence "minutes papers." They are designed to test your comprehension of basic concepts on which the course is built.

    Quizzes will also be used from time to time for the same purpose.

    Because your performance on these exercises reflect your preparation or review of course materials, these "minutes papers" and are counted as part of your participation grade.

    Class Discussions

3. Class Discussions

To be educated is to know how to understand, experience, and respect difference.
  • Classes are a combination of lecture, class-wide discussion, and smaller group discussions.

  • Generally, each student is encouraged in this class to articulate her or his views of the subjects discussed. So you should always feel free to ask questions.

  • There are some important skills that this course can reinforce (no doubt, most of you already have these skills in some high degree).

  • Each student is expected to handle in a respectful manner the opinions expressed and questions asked by others. If this needs to be true in any course, it needs to be true in an ethics course whether it deals with human or nonhuman animals.

  • Further, even if you already have good listening skills, this all-important skill of discerning the heart and soul, as it were, of others' questions, answers, and analyses can be enhanced in this course.

  • If you don't presently possess these skills at a high level, recognize that these important talents can be acquired and then further developed dramatically with practice. You are going to need them to have a successful, happy career as a veterinarian.

4. Examinations and Grading

Grading will be based on a possible 100 points overall, allocated as follows:

  • Participation 30% (the components are described above). Two components of participation (attendance and involvement in discussion) are weighted equally (7.5% each, for a total of 15%). The "minutes papers" and quizzes count as another 15% of your grade

  • Final exam 70%. The final exam will be timed, and open-book--it will have multiple components and will be taken during a time window to be agreed upon in class. Additional guidelines and observations about this final exam will be posted. We will endeavor to schedule a review session, on a date to be agreed upon.

5. Course Materials and Texts

The materials you will read are, in some instances, technically or philosophically challenging. You will be expected to have read them carefully and to be prepared to discuss them.

In addition, various materials in the syllabus will be identified as the subject of specific discussions, and students will be asked to relate them to the lecture or discussion topics scheduled.


  • Tannenbaum, J. 1995. Veterinary Ethics: Animal Welfare, Client Relations, Competition and Collegiality, 2nd edition, St. Louis, MO: Mosby-Year Book

  • Rollin, Bernard E. 1999. An Introduction to Veterinary Medical Ethics: Theory and Cases, Ames: Iowa State University Press

  • Rollin, Bernard E. 2006. An introduction to veterinary medical ethics: theory and cases. 2nd ed. Ames, Iowa: Blackwell

  • Wilson, James F. 1993. Law and Ethics of the Veterinary Profession, Yardley, PA: Priority

  • Bean, Michael J., and Melanie J. Rowland 1997. The Evolution of National Wildlife Law, 3rd ed, Westport, Connecticut: Praeger