Just Between a Giraffe and His Doctor

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Science  17 May 2002:
Vol. 296, Issue 5571, pp. 1233
DOI: 10.1126/science.296.5571.1233c

Officials at Washington, D.C.'s National Zoo declined to release medical records of a dead giraffe to The Washington Post—citing the animal's right to privacy.

In an e-mail to their reporter, the Post reported on 6 May, zoo director Lucy Spelman explained that “the core of veterinary medicine is the client-patient relationship.” Rules for humans “do not apply in precisely the same way to animal medicine. … But we believe they do in principle.”

The zoo's reasoning has drawn hoots from legal experts and animal-rights activists alike. “As a matter of law, animals are property, and as such they can't have any rights,” says Gary Francione of Rutgers School of Law in Newark, New Jersey.

Zoo spokesperson Robert Hoage says the reporter was allowed to interview the pathologist and was given parts of the giraffe's pathology report. But the medical record in its entirety is not geared for public consumption, he explains. Experts scoff at that too. Paul McMasters of the Freedom Forum in Arlington, Virginia, says that by filtering the information through spokespeople, the zoo is thwarting access to records.

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