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Do We Need to Put Society First? The Potential for Tragedy in Antimicrobial Resistance

The problem of antibiotic resistance is not easy to solve. In an attempt to tackle the issue, policies are being implemented with some successes. But the successes, however encouraging, will not be enough to stop the spread of resistance, say the authors. Advice to restrict the use of antibiotics so that they are prescribed only when necessary (e.g. not for viral infections just to placate a patient) is useful, say the authors, but, they say, we might need to go further. They make the controversial argument that antibiotic resistance might be stopped only by putting society before the individual, perhaps by banning antibiotic treatment for mild bacterial infections, or using them only for life-threatening illnesses. Everyone has the right to treatment, and acting against the patient's interest is not usually considered ethical. In some situations, however, what is good for an individual patient may not be good for the health of society as a whole, say the authors – drastic problems sometimes necessitate drastic solutions.