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Wednesday, December 24, 2008
How Would "Safe" Steroids Impact Sports?

University of Pennsylvania bioethics professor Arthur Caplan has a provocative piece in the British Journal of Sports Medicine entitled "Does the the biomedical revolution spell the end of sport?". Here's an excerpt:

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But, what if biomedical science could put the safety issue [of steroids] aside? Someday, probably soon, there will be drugs that do what steroids do without any real risk of harm to the user. Forms of gene therapy are also being developed that will let us safely tweak ourselves and our offspring to perform athletic feats that are ’’swifter, higher and stronger’’ than ever before seen. Would the world still want the interventions banned? Would doctors who offered such techniques be acting immorally?

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Strangely, the greatest threat in to the future of sport is not necessarily new drugs, gene therapy or better chemistry. It may simply be that the more knowledge we gain about the hereditary and developmental factors involved, the greater the threat to our ability to value performance as a result of much other than random luck in the distribution of the hereditary materials that govern so much of who we are and what we can achieve.

Science does not destroy the possibility of effort but it may diminish our understanding of its role to the point where sport simply devolves into exhibition.

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To access the rest of the article, click here (there is a fee). For a related Sports Law Blog piece, check out Greg's posting "Performance Enhancing Drug or Air Conditioning?"


Michael -

Sports should be all about your natural ability. Opening the doors to this will open a wave of new problems. What if athletes substitute these for more powerful, but illegal drugs?
If it went into effect, you could not give it to only some athletes, it would have to be for all.

Think of it on the academic side. As a former law student, I would see students get extra time on exams because of "notes from the doctor" or take study aiding meds (aderall) whether they legitimately had an excuse or not. As professor, I am sure that would upset you, to see other students getting an unfair advantage on your exams.
I do not think it would ever get approved because, there would be too many athletes that would not take it, and they would dissaprove, resulting in a rejection of legalized drugs.

Blogger Thomas44 -- 12/24/2008 9:56 AM  

This is quite an interesting topic.

We say that an athlete is excelling because of natural talent even when he has access to a much more sophisticated training center with all the best weights, cardio machines, trainers, etc. Is there really a significant difference between advanced weight training and harmless steroids? Both would would be accessible to similar people, and steroids might actually be able to close the gap between the haves and have nots with weight training.

To put another way--what is the difference between safe steroids and protein supplements, for instance? If the steroids (although I'm sure safe steroids would never be named steroids) are available to all, then I think the unfairness issue drops out, and we are left with the "best" players who succeed because of genetics/hard work/supplements including safe steroids, etc. I'm not sure that's a good thing, but I'm not sure it's a bad thing either.

Anonymous David Katz -- 12/24/2008 11:40 AM  

Nice post..

Anonymous iddaa -- 12/26/2008 12:18 PM  

I often have made David's point--I have not gotten a good explanation as to what is different between steroids and the other benefits of modern knowledge, science, and technology that David mentions (and to which I add career-prolonging medical procedures such as Tommy John surgery or reconstructive knee surgery). If we can make steroids (or PEDs, if we want to avoid the word steroid) safe, we remove the real rationale for making them illegal. Then there really is no difference.

Blogger Howard Wasserman -- 12/26/2008 9:19 PM  

thats gr8

Blogger aashish -- 12/27/2008 5:00 AM  

Steroids and Protein supplements have a world of differences. I can write a 20 page answer to that questions.

Steroids are by far and away superior to anything "safe."

There is a reason why people take them over other supplements. Now, to say there can be safe steroids, who knows maybe one day, but steroids come with the side effects. Growth Hormone is supposed to be the "safe" drug out there.

To compare a drug and training equipment makes no sense. You are still using the natural genes, testosterone, and whatever else there is of your body.

Blogger Thomas44 -- 12/27/2008 8:42 PM  

I don't know what "steroids" are in this context.

Take, for example, testosterone, which is a "steroid hormone", and completely natural and normally occurring, and in fact, you might be dead without it.

The issue of safety with testosterone is not the substance, but the dosage. If testosterone is present in "normal" quanitities, what is the health risk if it was supplemented to get to that level?

Why is it that, say, hormone replacement therapy related to the thyroid is legal, but brining testosterone up to normal levels is not acceptable hormone replacement therapy?

I think the current position is that because testosterone is a "steroid hormone" and thyroid hormone is not a "steroid hormone", that is why one is illegal and the other not.

This is extended by a presumption that "any steroid at any level is unacceptably performance enhancing."

Yet raising thyroid to normal levels must also be performance enhancing in some way, or you wouldn't do it at all.

So I don't see the difference, except that we've drawn a line on one side of the word "steroid", and can't discuss beyond that.


Blogger -- 1/12/2009 5:47 PM  

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