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Death or Declaw: Dealing with Moral Ambiguity in a Veterinary Hospital

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The medical practice of declawing has received much political debate over the past few years. Yet, empirical and theoretical research on how this practice is maintained and the ethical positions of those who actually participate in this work is lacking. Drawing from 9 months of ethnographic fieldwork in a feline-specific veterinary hospital and open-ended interviews with veterinarians and staff, this study examines veterinary staff members' attitudes toward, and strategies for, dealing with the medical practice of declawing. Specifically, findings show that a number of staff felt uncomfortable with their participation in onychectomy (declawing) and relied heavily on organizational support structures to cope both with these feelings and the moral ambiguity about the practice. Relying on these structures, the veterinarians and their staff are able simultaneously to define felines as subjects worthy of respect for their quality of life, protect their own self-identity as people who work toward the best interest of animals, and paradoxically support action toward felines that they find morally objectionable.

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