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Monday, March 17, 2008
Are Steroids Ethically Good for Athletes?

Really interesting piece in Science Progress by Dr. Arthur Caplan, Chair of the Department of Medical Ethics and the Director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania, on the ethics of steroids. In short, he argues that the commonly-endorsed logic of "steroids are evil" is at least partly misguided, if not altogether wrong. Here are some excerpts from his piece:

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John Harris, a British bioethicist, is a useful example of someone who is not at all sure that a bit of the “juice” is such a bad thing in athletic competition. In his Enhancing Evolution (2007), he argues that performance enhancement is not only ethically acceptable, but that sometimes it may be morally obligatory.

Harris sees a legitimate role for the use of drugs and genetic engineering to improve performance in sport. But sports are not his main target. He sees a future in which parents happily and willingly use genetic and reproductive technologies to design their children with more capacities and abilities than they otherwise would have had. His main argument in the book is that there are no convincing arguments against performance enhancement and plenty that support it.

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Well, Harris is right that you don’t need to make a great effort to accomplish great things. Every once in a while someone wins the lottery or finds an old heirloom worth a lot of money in the attic and no one seems to mind that they have advanced themselves through luck, not exertion. But that is not true in sport. A lucky bounce or a gust of wind can determine the outcome, but athletes get praise for performance linked to effort, not luck. The whole point of sport is to try and reward effort even if luck plays a crucial role in the outcome. Harris’ point that small efforts can produce big rewards does not moot the point that big efforts that produce big rewards get the praise, not just the notice.

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The idea that we value a performance because we admire the random luck of the lottery of life that gives some of us genes for singing, others for strength and still others for superb vision seems implausible. Why is randomness to be admired? Looking for value in the natural distribution of talents and skills is like looking for the source of free will and autonomy in the random nature of evolution or the Heisenberg uncertainty principle. Estimable value does not lurk in random luck. We can accept that luck can bring us fortune and enjoy it, but it is hard to see what role the luck of the draw in genetics has in esteeming sports performances.

The battle over performance enhancement is often fought out as if one size fits all—what makes performance enhancement acceptable in one domain, sports, will make it acceptable in all aspects of life. What the fight between Harris and [Harvard University's Michael Sandel] reveals is that this is not so. There are reasons to believe that steroids don’t belong in sports, even putting safety concerns aside. But this does not mean that performance-enhancing drugs have no appropriate role in any areas of life and achievement. The decision about what role pharmacology and genetics ought to play depends on whether you are trying to travel to another planet, solve a difficult math problem, learn a new language, or hit a home run.

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For the rest of Dr. Caplan's piece, click here.


I believe this would be some historical reference for the Scien-tard.

Anonymous Carl Spackler -- 3/17/2008 5:17 PM  

"morally obligatory"? -- What the heck does that mean?

Blogger Rick Karcher -- 3/17/2008 6:38 PM  

The East German regime believed the same.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 3/18/2008 7:59 AM  

I think there too much caution thrown at using performance enhancing drugs that we may not even see the benefits of it in the long run.

I think I'm alone in that statement. Maybe not.

Anonymous sportsbloggers -- 3/30/2008 11:12 AM  

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