"If your conscience is clear, you'll have nothing to fear, when it's time to rest at night.What strength it can give, when
we strive to live, according to what is right."
The Veterinarian's Oath states in part, "Being admitted to the profession of veterinary medicine... I will practice my
Likely you repeated this oath, as I did, at the time of graduation and receipt of the DVM degree.
But, what is involved in fulfilling our promise to practice veterinary medicine conscientiously?
Can we depend on our conscience to ethically guide the diagnostic and therapeutic decisions we make for our patients?
What role should our conscience play in deciding what fees we request from clients?
Is the establishment of fees based on the often-cited principle of "charge according to what the traffic will bear" consistent
with practicing conscientiously?
What is conscience? How would you define it? Before continuing to read this essay, contemplate its meaning.
The word conscience is derived from the Latin term "scire" and implies knowledge from within. According to Webster's Dictionary,
conscience is the power or principle within a person that differentiates right from wrong conduct, with a compulsion to do
It follows that the conscientious practice of veterinary medicine is based on a moral standard of judgment that opposes violation
of previously recognized ethical principles. Since our conscience provides an inward realization of right or wrong that excuses
or accuses our actions, it judges our thoughts and actions.
Notice the complementary meanings of the word "conscience" and the word "conscious." Webster's New World Dictionary of the American Language (College Edition) observes that both words have their origin in Latin, and both contain the root term "scire," meaning "knowledge"
or "to know." Both terms encompass knowledge, recognition or awareness of inner feelings. Although we may be conscious of
our conscience, only our conscience provides an inward realization of right or wrong that excuses or accuses our actions.
Only our conscience judges our thoughts and actions.
How conscience functions
How did our conscience develop?
Who determines what is right and what is wrong?
Consider he following: We are born with a conscience that has the potential to guide us to do what is right. However, before
it is trained it cannot tell us what is right or wrong. In the context of practicing veterinary medicine conscientiously,
our conscience can properly guide us only if we have been taught to recognize, accept and follow ethical principles. Therefore,
possession of a good conscience is not an innate quality.
To function properly, our conscience must be trained by proper thoughts, acts, convictions and rules that are implanted in
our minds by study and experience. Once trained, our conscience can then compare various courses of action with previously
learned rules or ethical principles.
When an ethical course of practice conflicts with the action we are considering, a properly trained and functioning conscience
sounds a warning. Our conscience also has the capacity to allow us to retrospectively judge the choices we have made.
Although training our conscience to recognize standards based on truth is essential if it is to safely guide us in the practice
of our profession, it is not enough for us to possess the truth about right and wrong conduct. The truth must possess us in
the context of motivating our conduct. Therefore, if our conscience is properly trained we must listen to it and allow it
to guide our actions.