What is the greatest reward for doing?

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Nov 01, 2004


Carl A. Osborne
Recently, Dr. John Wright, past-president of the American Association of Human Animal Bond Veterinarians, asked me what I considered to be the most significant changes in the human-animal bond in context of my career as a veterinarian.

I began to reflect on the phenomenal changes that have occurred in the practice of veterinary medicine since I graduated from Purdue University's School of Veterinary Medicine in 1964. Many advances in patient care that have occurred during the past 40 years are related to the emergence of an evidence-based approach to diagnosis and therapy.

This, in turn, has resulted in a paradigm shift in the philosophy of the practice of veterinary medicine from an art based largely on empiricism to a science built on the foundations of verifiable observations and technology. However, in my instance, a more-significant change that has occurred in context of the human-animal bond involved my perspective of the value that I place on the lives of animals.

At one time, I accepted the scientific premise that evolutionary random mutations and natural selection were responsible for the complex structural and functional design of living things. However, as I learned more about the anatomical, physiological, biochemical and genetic complexities of biological systems, I began to search diligently for answers about the origin of life and the purpose of life. As I have described elsewhere, my search for answers to these questions uncovered convincing evidence that life could not originate by chance (JAVMA 217:1622-1624, 2000).

Rather, scientific logic based on probability and the principle of cause and effect point to the conclusion that an intelligent designer is responsible for the amazing structural and functional design found in living beings—animal and human. This conclusion heightened my appreciation and respect for all forms of life. Although in my role as a veterinarian I have been trained to provide care primarily for companion animals. I am not a "species racist." Of all professions, the veterinary profession should champion respect for, and appreciation of, all forms of life.

In context of the practice of veterinary medicine and the human-animal bond, why is the issue of the origin and purpose of life important? If we accept the premise that we are the product of an intelligent designer, then it follows that the designer had a purpose for all living things. According to the Bible, God put man in charge of the animals (Genesis 1: 28), and entrusted the earth to man's protective care (Genesis 2: 15; Psalm 115: 16).

As caretakers, however, humans were not to upset the balance of nature. Man's having the animals in subjection placed upon him a stewardship for which he would always be held accountable (Luke 12: 48). As with humans (I also am dedicated to the human-human bond), I have come to view the life of animals as precious (Matthew 10: 29). Does this mean I wouldn't harm an ant? The answer is that I would not harm an ant (or any other form of life) if the sole purpose for harming the ant was pleasure or thoughtless demonstration of superiority. I am reminded of the words of William Cowper who said, "I would not enter on my list of friends the man who needlessly steps on a worm."