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Official Opinion 96-26

Official Opinion 96-26

December 30, 1996
To: 

Joint Secretary
State Examining Boards

Re: 

The use of ultrasound to diagnose pregnancy in animals constitutes the practice of veterinary medicine.

You have asked this office for an official opinion regarding whether the practice of veterinary medicine, as defined in O.C.G.A. § 43-50-3, includes the use of ultrasound to diagnose pregnancy in animals. Based upon the information attached to your request, it is my understanding that this question has been raised in connection with the performance of artificial insemination by horse breeders who do not own the horses being artificially inseminated and who are not employees of the owners of the horses. Although the Veterinary Practice Act specifically allows the performance of artificial insemination by unlicensed persons, it does not expressly permit the performance of ultrasound to determine if the animal that has been artificially inseminated has become pregnant. See O.C.G.A. § 43-50-32 (10). Accordingly, you have asked whether the use of ultrasound to diagnose pregnancy in animals constitutes the practice of veterinary medicine.

Under Georgia law, only a licensed veterinarian may lawfully practice veterinary medicine. O.C.G.A. § 43-50-33. Section 43-50-3(5) provides in pertinent part that to practice veterinary medicine means:

(A) To diagnose, treat, correct, change, relieve, or prevent animal disease, deformity, defect, injury, or other physical or mental conditions, including the

prescription or administration of any drug, medicine, biologic, apparatus, application, anesthetic, or other therapeutic or diagnostic substance or technique for testing for pregnancy, or for correcting sterility or infertility, or to render advice or recommendations with regard to any of the above.

The question of whether the practice of veterinary medicine includes testing an animal for pregnancy was posed to my predecessor in 1962. At that time, the statute did not include language regarding testing for pregnancy and the Attorney General opined that the practice of veterinary medicine did not include an examination to discover whether an animal is pregnant. 1962 Op. Att'y Gen. p. 393. In 1965, the General Assembly amended the law governing the practice of veterinary medicine and adopted a new act entitled the "Georgia Veterinary Practice Act." 1965 Ga. Laws 92. The new act expanded the previous definition of veterinary medicine to include the broad language quoted above regarding the prescription or administration of any therapeutic or diagnostic substance or technique for testing for pregnancy. In this same act, the legislature specifically excepted from its coverage the performance of artificial insemination. The legislature, therefore, drew a distinction between artificial insemination and testing for pregnancy and established that only a licensed veterinarian could test an animal for pregnancy.

One technique for the testing of pregnancy in animals is the use of ultrasonography or ultrasound. Ultrasonography is defined as "the visualization of deep structures of the body by recording the reflections of (echoes of) pulses of ultrasonic waves directed into the tissues." Dorland's Illustrated Medical Dictionary 1773 (28th ed. 1994). In the context raised by your letter, it is my understanding that ultrasound is used to determine if a mare that has been artificially inseminated has become pregnant. Because ultrasound is being used to diagnose pregnancy and is not part of the artificial insemination process, it clearly is a technique for testing for pregnancy. Accordingly, the use of ultrasound to diagnose pregnancy does constitute the practice of veterinary medicine which may only be performed by a licensed veterinarian.

For the reasons stated above, it is my official opinion that the use of ultrasound to diagnose pregnancy in animals constitutes the practice of veterinary medicine under O.C.G.A. § 43-50-3.

Prepared by:

AMELIA W. BAKER
Assistant Attorney General