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Tuesday, May 27, 2008
The Bioethics of Oscar Pistorius Competing in the Olympics

Last week, Geoff wrote an excellent post on whether double amputee sprinter Oscar Pistorius should be able to compete in the Olympics. Over Blog Bioethics, Dr. Arthur Caplan, Chair of the Department of Medical Ethics and the Director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania, has a compelling analysis that largely argues against allowing Pistorius to compete. Here's an excerpt:
Continuity with history

Pistorius' amazing drive to compete may cause an even more troubling problem.

Sport demands continuity with its own history. If you make technological changes in the equipment — swimsuits, pole vaults, running shoes, skates, skis, baseballs, bats, playing surfaces, etc — then you undermine the ability of today’s athletes to be compared not only with their peers but with their predecessors.

Similarly, if people with artificial legs, artificial eyes that permit exquisite focus, pharmacologically enhanced muscles or emotions, or brain implants that permit unprecedented concentration or endurance enter into competition, then you no longer have a sport. The athletes are not comparable to those who attempted the same feats in earlier times.

We don’t expect to compare the performances of today to those of the ancient Greeks, but we do expect some ability to compare what happened today to be compared with what happened yesterday, a year ago, a decade ago or even 50 years ago.

It may be fascinating to see who can go the fastest on rocket-powered legs or throw a heavy weight the farthest using performance-enhancing drugs, or genetically engineered muscles. But what you have then is an exhibition or a show, not a sport. In some ways, this is what the professional wrestling and no-rules body building already are.

To be a sport you need something approximating a fair playing field, some boundaries on the attributes of those who compete so they are comparable to one another and some ability to compare today’s performance with those in the not-so-distant past.

That is why I am not sure Oscar Pistorius should compete.

For the rest of the post, click here.


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