Sunday 4 July 2010

Cats Can't Give Informed Consent

The obvious fact that cats can't give informed consent places us in a position of responsibility that a lot of cat keepers don't recognise. How do I know that? Well, it's easy really. In the USA there are about 20 million cats that have been declawed for the benefit of the person and to the detriment of the cat. Clearly millions of cat keepers in America have not taken on the burden of responsibility to protect the rights of their cats.

It is very easy for us to become complacent about the rights of our cats. They are in fact quite vulnerable despite being under our care. We have total power over them.

The concept of informed consent, in relation to medical procedures for a human, means that we are clearly informed about the procedure and then we make a decision whether we should undergo it. The objective is to improve our health and wellbeing.

In respect of medical matters regarding our cat we listen to the veterinarians advice and make a decision. We are the vet's client from the vet's perspective. This is wrong. For the vet the client should be the cat and the cat owner or keeper is the cat's guardian and spokesperson. With that perspective in mind, it is possible to envisage a lot of decisions concerning the health of cats having a different outcome.

For a start there would be no declawing  - none whatsoever because the cat would obviously object to it. In the same vein of thought, a cat would not accept the administering of drugs to modify its behavior. Some cats might be considered troublesome with so called behavioral problems when in fact the behavioral problems could well be ours in not accepting a cat's normal but sometimes disruptive behavior.

When administering medical treatment to a cat, both the veterinarian and the cat's owner should place themselves in the shoes of the cat and make a decision accordingly. In short both human parties should protect the cat's rights and give informed consent on behalf of the cat.

A cat has no legally protected rights in a general sense in the USA as far as I am aware other than standard animal cruelty laws. In the UK there is the Animal Welfare Act 2006 which also sets a framework for animal welfare. There appears to be a gap in the law here. A cat is protected against cruelty under criminal law. But a cat is not protected in respect of the need to obtain informed consent before medical procedures are carried out on the cat.

The only way around this is to make it law that veterinarian medical procedures must only be for the promotion of the cat's health and not for the convenience of the person. A vet's oath and guidelines say that this must be the case at all times. But it is flaunted and ignored in the USA hence the need for legislative protection.

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