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Friday, December 11, 2009

A Few Bad Apples

Over my lifetime (all 40 years of it so far) I have seen many people do reprehensable things.  Professional businessmen and CEOs who embezel and drive companies into the ground.  Ministers who steal or hire prostitutes.  Teachers who seduce and sexually abuse their students or other children.  Police officers who abuse their charges, physically beating them.  Respected officials who abuse their power.  Celebrities who are supposed to be role-models falling to drug and alcohol addiction.  And don't even get me started on the problems with politicians.

There's the old adage that a bad apple will spoil the whole bunch.  And I guess that it's human nature to see a prominent figure as a representative of their "type".  But is that really fair?  In recent news we're seeing a barrage of apparent infidelities performed by Tiger Woods.  Does this mean that all professional golfers are likely to be adulterers?  Remember Debra LaFave, the Tampa teacher who slept with her 14 year-old student?  Does this mean that all of my son's teachers secretly want to have sex with him?  Back in the '80s the televangelist Jimmy Swaggart infamously was outed over a relationship with a prostitute.  Should we assume that all preachers are secretly hiding scandalous behavior?

My recent discussion on the potential ramifications of increased legal awards in veterinary malpractice suits has brought this home to me because of similar views of my profession.  Most of the commenters on that entry appear to have a very strong view against veterinarians.  Reviewing some of these people's web sites makes it appear that veteriarians as a whole should not be trusted (and please forgive me if I'm mischaracterizing anyone's comments).  One web site seems to proudly boast that they have received "hundreds" of similar reports of horrible veterinary malpractice from around the world.  Reading these sites you would almost never want to take your pet to a vet again.  And I'm sure these people probably feel that way themselves, as the circumstances they describe seem particularly and legitimately heinous.

But let's put a bit of perspective on this.  Okay, so there are "hundreds" of reports.  Can we assume 500?  Just for the sake of numbers.  And that's from just one web site, so we can assume that only a small number of people contacted that webmaster.  It's also a safe bet that only a small percentage of malpractice concerns are ever reported.  So we need to increase that number many times.  Do you think that a 10-fold increase (5,000) is to small?  Let's go with a 100-fold increase, and say that there are 50,000 malpractice cases that happen. In the US alone there are approximately 200,000,000 veterinary visits annually by all pet owners.  So our 50k malpractice cases represents 0.025% of veterinary visits.  Well, maybe only 1 in 1000 malpractice cases are reported, so there are actually a half-million horrible and malicious veterinary visits annually.  Pretty big number, right?  But that's still only a fraction of one percent of all visits in the US alone, let alone the world.  Suddenly "hundreds" of reports from around the world is a prety miniscule number.

Please understand that I'm not trying to belittle the people who have had truly horrifying experiences with their pets, or who have to deal with someone who should have their medical license stripped from them.  I honestly feel regretful that someone with the same title as I have caused them and their loved ones so much unnecessary pain.  But let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater.  I fully agree that anyone (regardless of profession) who behaves abusively and unethically needs to be fully prosecuted and probably deserves anything they get in the process.  However, it's wrong and unjust to assume that all members of a given profession are automatically guilty of the same behaviors. 

I can honestly say that the huge majority of veterinarians that I've known and worked with are honest, ethical, compassionate, and thorough people.  Yes, there are bad apples in my profession, as there are in EVERY profession out there.  Unfortunately, some people fall victim to laziness, greed, anger, and any other sin.  That most certainly does NOT excuse their behavior, and they need to be faced with the consequences of such actions.  However, I would ask people to exercise some common sense and discretion and not let these people spoil their view of the whole bunch.