In 2005, Mr. Patterson was infected with a super bacterium which is called Acinetobacter baumannii that is difficult to be cured. The most powerful antibiotics Polymyxin E was used while it failed. His wife Strathdee, an infectious disease expert, decided to use Phage therapy to cure her husband. With help of Naval medical research institute, treatment plan was proposed. However, this plan was not approved by FDA (Food and Drug Administration). But Strathdee decided to go on treatment because her husband was at the most dangerous edge. Fortunately, it was approved and finally the treatment was effective and Patterson is recovering gradually.
Phage therapy should be applied to specific patient and widely promoted.
Doctor’s duties to save lives
For the treatment, saving the life is the priority. Although antibiotics is widely used in most kind of bacterium treatment, the bacterium is likely to produce drug resistance if the bacterium is strong enough. Once this situation come up, the antibiotics treatment is useless, which means the patient will face death. From the perspective of effectiveness, perhaps the Phage therapy is the only way to save patient’s life. Doctor’s duty is to save lives. For doctor’s ethics, an effective treatment should be taken into consideration instead of maintaining the current situation.
No doubt it is hard for patient to accept a new treatment because he will face unknown danger. However, doctor should act as a bridge of communication. The patient has the right to know the possible treatment and decide an optimal one from doctor’s description. Smith and Longo (2012) thought the majority of patients with terminal illness felt that their treatment course was likely to “cure” them. On one aspect, patients are afraid of death and on another aspect, most patients are eager to live on. Whether it is for saving lives or based on the wishes of patients, Phage therapy should be used, especially for those whose disease cannot be cured by antibiotics.
Although traditional antibiotics cannot achieve the desired results for some rare bacteria, in addition the resistance of pathogens also make antibiotics useless, does phage have the potential to be widely used and even replace some types of antibiotics in the future? That is a fact that phage has already cured some dying patients, however, a phage can only effectively cope with its corresponding bacteria. As a result, the economic benefits are not obvious at present. So, should it invest a lot of resources to develop this unknown area, or to use antibiotics that have been widely accepted?
Currently, the study of phage is in its infancy. For some sponsors, it is possible to make huge profits, however, all the inputs may be lost because of its unknown factors. For patients suffering from illness, antibiotics cannot cure them and phage gives them hope.
If phages wants to have a place in health-care after several decades, there is no doubt that its potential needs further development. As a matter of fact, phage therapy can be used for treating bacterial infections not only in human, but also domestic animals and even biocontrol in food. What is more, in certain regions of world, some medical institutions mix therapeutic phages into cocktails consisting of multiple virus types. This is the combination of two or more types of phage to produce more pharmacologically diverse formulations. It has a greater potential for presumptive treatment compared with individual phage.
The development and promotion of many new drugs have suffered from resistance, even if it has impacted traditional drugs, but in the long run, this is an inevitable trend.
Legitimacy and practicality become the limitations for phase therapy
Despite of listing the advantages of phage therapy above, this therapy has some shortcomings currently.
One of the most powerful evidence is that both in USA and EU, there is not approved by relevant laws to allow any phage product for human use.
As mentioned above, the development of Phage therapy prospects is great, which can cure super bacterial infection and prevent the emergence of drug resistance. However, because of this treatment is not legal (i.e. This therapy is still unlicensed now). Therefore, both doctors and hospital institutions cannot use phage therapy even if they are faced with a patient who suffers from super bacterial infections and antibiotics cannot be treated, because it is illegal. In addition, even at the risk of illegal use of bacteriophage therapy for patients in critical situations, whether the patient is ensured to cure and also, if the patient died, is it due to the use of this currently illegitimate treatment, and whether doctors and medical institutions are responsible for the death of the patient.
In moral terms, the doctor’s mission is to save lives obviously with following the certain rules and regulations. Otherwise, makes an illegal technology directly apply to the clinic, even if the situation is urgent, it might suffer more deaths.
Thus, this therapy method should be applied to the clinic until it becomes mature and obtain the allowance from the governments.
From the perspective of utilitarianism and practicality, antibiotic treatment has been widely used in bacterial therapy, and the therapeutic range of bacteriophage therapy is too limited. Moreover, applying such large cost on its research, but just to meet the requirement of a very small number of people, which is not in conformity with utilitarianism and practicality.
As mentioned above, although this research may contribute to the future of clinical medicine, and may save patients who may be in urgent and need this medical technology. However, in a short period of time, bacteriophage therapy is still only needed by a very small number of people, and this technology is still immature, so it requires a lot of financial and technical investment in the studies of this technology, so the cost is not proportional to the demand of this, which does not fit the central idea of pragmatism, whose fundamental principle is that everything is based on effects and functions. Additionally , in the current shortage of talent and funding, it is most pragmatic to put available resources where they are most needed.
Therefore, the study of bacteriophage therapy should be based on the steady and continuous development under the conditions of available resources, instead of investing a large amount of resources in this research at a time when the demand is minimal.