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Legal implications of euthanasia without owner consent

02 February 2021
7 mins read
Volume 12 · Issue 1
Table 1. Five Animal Welfare Needs (Animal Welfare Act, 2006)


A veterinary surgeon and registered veterinary nurse must act in accordance with an animal owner's wishes and should respect their confidentiality. This can cause conflict as animal welfare should also be considered as a priority. Contradictory messages from legislation and the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons Code of Professional Conduct for Veterinary Nurses are confusing, however, guidance from these suggests that animal welfare overrides all. To practice clinical governance, veterinary teams should discuss ethical scenarios to prepare all staff for prioritising animal welfare while considering the views of the owner.

A veterinary surgeon (VS) and registered veterinary nurse (RVN) have been looking after a cat with chronic kidney failure. Over the last 6 months the cat has been deteriorating despite receiving maximum medical treatment. The VS advises euthanasia but the owners are refusing because of strong moral beliefs that euthanasia is always unacceptable. Both VS and RVN are concerned that the cat is suffering and decide to investigate the legislation surrounding euthanasia without owner consent.

While working in veterinary practice, VSs and RVNs see patients and clients who bring legal and ethical challenges. In this fictional scenario, the euthanasia of a cat with chronic kidney disease may appear the morally just decision, however the owner will not give consent because of their own personal beliefs. This report will critically reflect on the legal responsibilities of the VS and RVN as well as review how confidentiality commitments affect reporting the owner to the local authorities for animal welfare abuse.

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