Marc Forgione Jr.
English 12- H
January 7th, 2018
Performance Enhancing Drugs in Sports
The debate over athletes’ use of performance-enhancing substances is getting more complicated as biotechnologies such as gene therapy become a reality. The availability of these new methods of boosting performance will force us to decide what we value most in sports—displays of physical excellence developed through hard work or victory at all costs. For centuries, spectators and athletes have cherished the tradition of fairness in sports. While sports competition is, of course, largely about winning, it is also about the means by which a player or team wins. Athletes who use any type of biotechnology give themselves an unfair advantage and disrupt the sense of fair play, and they should be banned from competition.
Researchers are experimenting with techniques that could manipulate an athlete’s genetic code to build stronger muscles or increase endurance. Searching for cures for diseases like Parkinson’s and muscular dystrophy, scientists at the University of Pennsylvania have created “Schwarzenegger mice,” rodents that grew larger than-normal muscles after receiving injections with a gene that stimulates growth protein. The researchers also found that a combination of gene manipulation and exercise led to a 35% increase in the strength of rats’ leg muscles (Lamb 13).
Such therapies are breakthroughs for humans suffering from muscular diseases; for healthy athletes, they could mean new world records in sports involving speed and endurance—but at what cost to the integrity of athletic competition? The International Olympic Committee’s World Anti-Doping Agency has become so alarmed about the possible effects of new gene technology on athletic competition that it has banned the use of gene therapies and urged researchers to devise a test for detecting genetic modification (Lamb 13). Some bioethicists argue that this next wave of performance enhancement is an acceptable and unavoidable feature of competition. As Dr. Andy Miah, who supports the regulated use of gene therapies in sports, claims, “The idea of the naturally perfect athlete is romantic nonsense. . . . An athlete achieves what he or she achieves through all sorts of means—technology, sponsorship, support and so on” (qtd. in Rudebeck). Miah, in fact, sees athletes’ imminent turn to genetic modification as “merely a continuation of the way sport works; it allows us to create more extraordinary performances” (Rudebeck). Miah’s approval of “extraordinary performances” as the goal of competition reflects our culture’s tendency to demand and reward new heights of athletic achievement. The problem is that achievement nowadays increasingly results from biological and high-tech intervention rather than strictly from hard work.
Better equipment, such as aerodynamic bicycles and fiberglass poles for pole vaulting, have made it possible for athletes to record achievements unthinkable a generation ago....