Business Ethics Decision Situation in Veterinary Practice

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Ethical behavior in business is a somewhat controversial topic since each company has different ethical guidelines and rules. While ethics have nothing to do with law, there is an overlap between these two aspects (Hartman et al., 2020). According to researchers, there is a correlation between unethical business practices and financial loss (Sudsakorn & Rattanawiboonsoom, 2018). The situation is even more difficult in the realm of veterinary.

Dealing with sensitive matters such as the human-animal bond is a challenge from a business standpoint. One issue that both veterinarians and pet owners are confronted with is the idea of refusing healthcare services for the animals. This is a business concern that overlaps with the ethical and moral values of the veterinarian, the person in charge of the pet, and the business owner.

Case 1. Refusing to treat incurable diseases

Most pet owners are eager to see their animals live a long and healthy life. While the human-animal bond can be powerful, the person in charge of the pet cannot always assess the situation objectively. An example would be animals with terminal diseases which show no sign of improving. While some owners are willing to make the ultimate decision of humanely euthanizing the pet, in other cases, people show resistance that leads them to avoid this outcome.

Euthanasia is a subjective ethical decision, but the positive outcomes are certain. The animal does not suffer, the owner can assist and support the pet, and the death itself is comfortable and humane. There are many positive aspects of euthanasia. However, some individuals are not ready to make such a drastic decision. People have specific values, and businesses can also have certain values (Hartman et al., 2020). A company that deals with veterinarian care usually considers not only the person’s wishes but also the well-being of the animal.

The first step that would help make a decision would be determining the facts and science that backs them up. If the general medical knowledge of the vets suggests the animal’s situation is beyond fixing, the ethical decision has support. The second step would be identifying the ethical issue itself. In this case, the problem is the unwillingness of the pet owner to listen to the vets’ advice regarding the animal’s situation. It is also essential to identify the people who are going to be affected by the decision. It is more complex with veterinarian businesses since the animal is involved too, and no legislation speaks upon certain policies in such situations.

This being said, the animal and the owner will be affected most by the ethical decision of veterinarian staff, as well as the business itself. It is also helpful to consider and compare alternatives. As mentioned before, some options would be keeping up with the treatment against the medical advice, refusing care, or trying to find common ground with the pet owner.

After going through all these steps, the vet can finally make the ethical decision that would benefit the business and the other party. In this particular situation, the medical provider should make an effort to explain how necessary euthanasia is and how fair it is toward the animal. If this solution does not seem favorable for the owner, an ethical decision would be refusing treatment or prescribing pain medication to the ill animal. From a legal standpoint, veterinarians are allowed to refuse service if they have reasons to do it. However, refusing treatment may have implications for both parties. This would lead to a loss of possible income for the vet clinic, and the owner would regret approaching a specialist who did not comply with the initial wishes.

Utilitatism implies a consequential approach to the decision-making process. Based on this ethical tradition, the consequences of the vet’s behavior are crucial, which is why the specialist would have to avoid euthanasia based on the stakeholder’s wishes. This would satisfy the pet owner and would benefit him. On the other hand, Kantians would make a decision based on ethics alone and avoid the moral aspect of the situation. According to Kantian ethics, the decision must be beneficial for both the business and the stakeholder. This implies that the vet keeps up with the treatment and provides adequate medical care for the pet but does not consider euthanasia since it will be both negative for the vet clinic and the pet owner.

Case 2. Emergency care

Another situation that some pet owners find challenging is the policies regarding emergency situations. While the emergency rooms for people follow a strict policy that involves prioritizing people in the most critical conditions, the same does not apply to vet clinics. Moreover, a person whose pet is severely injured is often asked to wait in the waiting room while other animals are receiving minor procedures that could wait. From a legal point, veterinarians do not have to assess the situation based on the level of emergency. However, while there are no laws and regulations that approach this issue, the ethical lens suggests that there have to be more efficient strategies that would benefit the animals in need.

The ethical issue indicates that the animals that need care the most are not the primary concerns of the vets. From a business standpoint, the customers who come first are prioritized by the manager, but the moral aspect is valid and crucial in such cases. By determining facts, it is evident that a pet that needs urgent assistance must be first in line since life is on the line. Similar to the previous situation, both the owner and the animal are affected by the decision.

It can also be a negative experience from an economic side and have bad connotations regarding the business’s reputation. A vet clinic that does not prioritize extremely injured animals would not be the first choice for pet owners. Alternatives would include assisting the most severe cases first or referring them to other vets nearby who can help. An ethical decision that would also benefit the business would be implementing a policy that prioritizes patients based on the severity of their health concerns.

The utilitarian tradition suggests basing the decision on future consequences, so it also supports the idea of treating severe patients first. This would positively affect the pet, the stakeholder, and the prospective customers who will know where to seek help during emergency situations. From a Kantian point of view, the decision-making process would not be based on morality. In this case, ethics allow the vet to perform treatment and procedures based on the first patient on the list. In this case, morality does not play a key role, and it would be convenient for the pet owners who are not willing to give up priority.

Case 3. Troubled Customers

Every corporate and private veterinary hospital has different rules and regulations when it comes to denying service. According to researchers, most business executives are situationists, which means that the guidelines for every privately-owned business may differ based on the policies, regulations, and procedures that apply to the company (Oumlil & Balloun, 2017). In case there is a troubled customer, every veterinary practitioner can choose how to handle the situation.

Since the law does not mention the necessary implication for a vet to refuse service, it depends on the subjective ethical decision of the person working at the hospital. Making a moral decision implies determining the facts first and foremost. If the animal is severely injured, and the owner’s behavior is aggravated due to stress that is related to that, it is a good reason for the vet staff not to refuse treatment right away. In other cases, the pet owner can be aggressive, non-responsive, and threatening. These aspects may put the vet practitioner in a situation that can potentially escalate into something life-threatening.

The ethical issue lies in the implications of the pet’s health. Refusing service in such cases may diminish the negative interactions with the owner but will end in a tragic outcome for the animal. The people that will be affected are the vet, the pet owner, and the animal. An alternative would be trying to relate to the customer’s stress due to his pet being injured or sick, calling the police, or referring the customer to another practitioner or clinic that can provide help.

An ethical decision that would benefit the business would be trying to find common ground with the owner. Reassuring him that the animal will receive proper care and understanding his reasoning may deescalate the conflict. If the customer’s improper behavior and aggressive actions impose a threat on the vet clinic’s employees’ lives, denying service is the only ethical decision that is adequate.

Based on the utilitarian assessment, the decision that would have the most advantageous outcome would be denying service to any stakeholder who imposes a threat. This would minimize the risks of possible unfavorable consequences and would diminish the negative implications. However, a Kantian evaluation suggests the need to find a balance between ethics and business practices without taking morality into account. A decision based on this aspect would include continuing collaboration with the stakeholder, minimizing the negative implications, and having a favorable business transaction as a consequence.


Business ethics play a crucial part in any company. The veterinary industry may not have particular laws and regulations that apply to regular medicine. Still, there is a solid human-animal bond that changes the status of animals into something more valuable (Moses, 2018). It has been stated that implementing a set of standards that would apply for every situation in a veterinary clinic is impossible (Rosoff et al., 2018).

However, the moral and ethical guidelines of every veterinary specialist influence the decision-making process. In case of refusal of treatment, there are no laws or regulations that would give guidance in such situations. Moreover, ethical premises vary from clinic to clinic.

A veterinarian can refuse treatment if the animal suffers from an incurable disease, the pet is not the first in line for examination, and the owner is unstable and abusive. The steps that would help in making a decision include determining the facts and science behind the case, identifying ethical issues and people affected by the decision, considering alternatives, and ultimately, making the decision. The decision may be based on several theories, including utilitarianism (related to consequences) or Kantian beliefs (related to duty). Based on the notions mentioned above, a vet practitioner can make an ethical business decision that would benefit the business, the stakeholder, and the pet.


Hartman, L., DesJardins, J., & MacDonald, C. (2020). Business ethics: Decision making for personal integrity & social responsibility (5th ed.). McGraw-Hill.

Moses, L. (2018). Another experience in resolving veterinary ethical dilemmas: Observations from a veterinarian performing ethics consultation. The American Journal of Bioethics, 18(2), 67–69. Web.

Oumlil, A. B., & Balloun, J. L. (2017). Cultural variations and ethical business decision making: A study of individualistic and collective cultures. Journal of Business & Industrial Marketing, 32(7), 889–900. Web.

Rosoff, P. M., Moga, J., Keene, B., Adin, C., Fogle, C., Ruderman, R., Hopkinso, H., & Weyhrauch, C. (2018). Resolving ethical dilemmas in a tertiary care veterinary specialty hospital: Adaptation of the human clinical consultation committee model. The American Journal of Bioethics, 18(2), 41–53. Web.

Sudsakorn, C., & Rattanawiboonsoom, V. (2018). Ethical business culture and its impact on unethical behaviors in the workplace: Conceptual implications. SSRN Electronic Journal. Web.

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