My “fact of the day” today is just a series of reflections on what was quite a varied day. We started out with two hours of ethics lecture. Mmm, ethics, one of my favorite things. This was the first lecture in this class, and it was enjoyable (despite the fact that I had missed out on the notice that we were supposed to do the reading ahead of time — oops).
We talked about different kinds of ethics: contractarian, utilitarian, relational, rights-based, and respect for nature. The contractarian discussion was the most interesting to me. Do we have relationships with animals based on a contract? The obvious answer is no, because animals can’t understand the concept of a contract and can’t knowingly enter into one. But I argued in class that species can have what is almost like a contract. For example, when we domesticated dogs, we traded food and medical care for work. Is this really a contract? Well, I think it is interesting that we only domesticated some species. Some have proved to not be domesticatable. Does that mean that some species (not the individuals, of course) chose to enter into a contract with our species, and other species chose not to? Only in a very abstract sense, of course, but I like the idea. Some theories of how canid domestication happened suggest that dogs made the first move in the relationship, choosing to start living near us for the benefits of our waste food. Did we domesticate them, or did they wriggle their way in first?
Next we had an hour of large animal medicine and surgery lecture about diseases of pigs. The lecture was given by a swine vet who works closely with intensively-raised pigs — pigs in confinement housing, what has been called a factory farm. She was not interested in discussing the ethics of confinement housing; when she put up a slide with an image of a sow gestation crate (in which the sow does not have room to turn around), she stated preemptively that any discussion about gestation crates could take place after lecture. In other words, she did not feel lecture was an appropriate place for that discussion. Phew. I completely understand her fear that lecture could get derailed in a debate on pig confinement, but I would have at least appreciated a few sentences about why she thinks it’s okay — some moral context. As it was, the contrast to the previous lecture was pretty stark.
Then lunch (I practiced the names of surgical instruments) and then one more hour of ethics lecture, and two more hours of pig diseases lecture. What an oddly-scheduled day.
The post-prandial ethics lecture/discussion was really interesting. It was about the question of whether the AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association) should extend accreditation to a Mexican veterinary school, the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM). The AVMA already accredits multiple foreign schools, so this is not at all without precedent. UNAM is by many reports an excellent school. So what’s the problem? Apparently, some veterinarians are afraid that accrediting UNAM will result in an influx of Mexican veterinarians to compete with American veterinarians, willing to work for lower salaries. The argument against that viewpoint is that we already have protections in place, requiring that foreigners be paid the same as American workers.
Should the AVMA just get out of accrediting non-American schools all together? The arguments against that are that global standards are good things; and that high standards abroad help keep us safe at home, because it is foreign veterinarians who stand between American animals and the introduction of animal diseases not yet seen on this continent, like the dreaded foot and mouth disease.
I have a sneaking suspicion that I am missing some arguments on this particular issue, because some of the people arguing against accreditation for UNAM are people I otherwise really respect, so I’ll keep my ears pricked and report back here if I learn more.