Legally protecting and compelling veterinarians in issues of animal abuse and domestic violence

This is a peer-reviewed paper in the New Zealand Veterinary Journal which considers the responsibilities of veterinarians to report suspected abuse of both animals and humans, and the associated legal and ethical duties. Currently, New Zealand veterinarians may face a risk of legal liability when reporting abuse. Suggestions are made for the profession to adopt a policy of mandatory reporting and the provision of legislative immunity to facilitate the involvment of veterinary professionals in addressing the societal issues of violence and abuse. The implications of such a policy are discussed.


The majority of veterinarians recognise their important role and responsibility to society and animal welfare in the detection and reporting of suspected abuse of animals and humans. In spite of the existing moral, ethical, and legal duties applied to veterinarians, they face substantial barriers that prohibit them from fulfilling their professional role in handling cases of suspected abuse. With increasing public and legal attention on issues of animal welfare, the non-fulfilment of these duties places the profession and its members at considerable risk of public criticism and adverse legal accountability. The issue is raised here that the veterinary profession in New Zealand needs to provide a clear policy statement and take pro-active measures that provide practical enforceable solutions to these existing barriers and legal risks.

Such an initiative will assist in ensuring that all registered members consistently fulfil their obligations, and are legally protected while doing so. Veterinary counterparts overseas already provide a legislative immunity for their veterinarians who report suspected abuse as part of a mandated duty to report. Implementation of such a duty has significant benefits for all veterinarians, including the requirement for education and effective support systems. In the absence of such a mandatory duty, intermediary measures can be introduced, demonstrating social responsibility and commitment by the profession to their existing duty of care.

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