Bioethics Forum

Antibiotic Resistance. Ethical Challenges for Patients and Physicians

Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften, Leibniz-Saal, Markgrafenstraße 38, 10117 Berlin

Prof. Dr. Alena M. Buyx · Mitglied des Deutschen Ethikrates, Deutscher Ethikrat, Fotograf: Reiner Zensen


Antibiotic resistance leads to an estimated 25,000 fatalities per year in Europe and is currently increasing rapidly worldwide. Experts are now warning of a ‘post-antibiotic’ age in which even simple microbial infections could once again become acute threats to individuals and the population. The causes include lack of hygiene, over- or misuse of antibiotics, excessive patient demand, but also the mass use of antibiotics in animal farming, as well as economic and regulatory bottlenecks in drug development. In addition, global tourism and migration also contribute to the worsening of the problem.

The proposed solutions pose ethical and social challenges. In addition to stricter hygiene measures that may be difficult to implement, this applies in particular to the required reduction in the use of antibiotics, which might cause inconvenience and risks for patients. The German Ethics Council addresses the following questions during a public event in the “Bioethics Forum” series:

  • What can be expected of people today in order to effectively obtain antibiotics in the future?
  • Is it acceptable to interfere with the self-determination of patients and the therapeutic freedom of physicians to increase protection against infection? And if so, to what extent and with what justification?
  • What are the expected and acceptable effects on the doctor-patient relationship if there were strict regulations on the use of antibiotics?