Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Antibiotic Resistance a Symptom of Consumerist Liberalism


This is a letter, drafted by Rupert Read and me, which we sent to the Daily Telegraph on Nov. 20th, following the headline story of Nov 19th, that E. Coli bacteria had become resistant to the last generation of antibiotics.

Why the Telegraph? Well, we’d sent numerous letters to the Guardian in previous weeks and had a dispute with the Indy over a letter of ours on Homeopathy, which they had published but did so by cutting it in half and editing it in such a way as to give the unsuspecting reader the impression we had sympathies with Homeopaths… Arghhhhh… . So, it was the Telegraph’s turn, although they seemed to disagree, because they did not print it.

Never mind, you can now read it here:


So, we learn that E. Coli bacteria have broken through the last barrier separating our society from nothing less than the end of modern medicine, potentially (“Antibiotics are dead”, 19 Nov.). Is this going to be the moment when as a civilisation at last we start to take the antibiotics crisis seriously? The moment when it is almost too late to do anything about it?

If so, then it behoves us to take this moment to look more deeply into the way that the precious and irreplaceable resource of antibiotics has been squandered. For this is more than just a disaster-in-waiting for the health of each and every one of us. It serves as an indictment of our culture's ruling principles. For this could only happen in a culture that prizes individual choice above all and that therefore refuses to put the common good above the whims of time-pressed doctors employing antibiotics as placebos, patients who as consumers demand them in the absence of sound medical rationale, and the short-termist practices of industrialised farming.   We need to recalibrate our culture and reintroduce the balance that comes from giving due weight to the public good in matters of public health. A national health service should serve the health of the nation, the public, and not have its ability to achieve that goal compromised by pandering to consumerist principles.

Uniquely precious resources such as antibiotics need to be strictly reserved for situations in which they are necessary. It should be forbidden to dish them out as, in effect, 'placebos', or to feed them routinely to livestock.

If we do not seek to establish a balance between the satisfaction of individual preferences and policies aimed at maintaining the health of the whole community, and of future generations; if we do not seek a way beyond the fundamentally-consumerist attitude that says that if a patient asks for an antibiotic, or consumers demand cheaper meat, then they can have it even if we know that will lead to rapid acceleration of resistance to those antibiotics, then woe betide us all. Do we want to send our children and their children back to the dark ages of medicine, where most operations were life-threatening because we lacked viable  antibiotics to fight the simplest of infections? Antibiotic resistance is a symptom of consumerist liberalism, and business-as-usual will not provide relief from those symptoms: only a collective political and ethical decision, and one moreover that together we determinedly act on, is going to do that.


Dr Phil Hutchinson

Dr Rupert Read

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