Just in time for baseball’s opening day, a series of articles in the Hastings Center Report asks what constitutes fairness in elite sports and what it takes to stop cheating. New issues, including the prospect of gene doping and questions about which athletes are really “female,” are explored.
- “Making Sense of Fairness in Sport.” In the lead essay Thomas H. Murray, president of The Hastings Center and coeditor of a new book, Performance-Enhancing Technologies in Sports, acknowledges the difficulty of drawing a line between accepted performance enhancing technologies, like ice-filled vests that runners can wear before a long race to cool their core temperature, and banned drugs like steroids. Would it be fair, as some critics of drug testing propose, to simply lift the ban on performance-enhancing drugs that are not deemed harmful? Murray says no because “athletes would confront a terrible choice: refrain from drugs and give up an edge that will often be decisive, or join in an ever-rising spiral of drug use.”
VIDEO: Murray discusses drawing a line on sports enhancement (2:29)
- “Scenes from the Front Lines.” Two former athletes offer an insider’s view of sport doping. Jan and Terry Todd, champion powerlifters who are now scholars at the University of Texas at Austin, discuss the pressures on these athletes to use steroids and the challenges of running a drug-free powerlifting association in a sport that has been “overtaken, dominated, and shattered by strength-building substances.”
- “How Close Are We to Gene Doping?” Attempts at gene doping are inevitable in the near future, concludes Theodore Friedmann, director of the program in human gene therapy at the University of California, San Diego. However, Friedmann predicts dire consequences from gene doping because genetic manipulation is highly complicated and can have serious side effects. “The perpetrators will almost certainly fail,” Friedmann writes. “In the course of their premature misadventures, they are far more likely to do harm than to provide athletic advantage.”
- “Sex Typing for Sport.” Under what circumstances should sex testing be done on athletes? What determines whether someone is female – if she was raised a girl, or if she has certain biological traits? The International Olympic Committee and the International Association of Athletic Federations tried to answer these questions in the wake of the controversy last summer around the sex testing of Caster Semenya, the South African runner whose female sex was questioned. But the answers have scientific shortcomings because they don’t take into account the range of medical conditions that can affect sexual development and testosterone levels, writes Alice Dreger, professor of medical humanities and bioethics at Northwestern University.
- “The Biological Passport.” Hopes are high among sports federations and antidoping agencies that the biological passport – a new way to identify doping by looking for the lingering biological markers of the use of banned substances rather than the substances themselves – will have two major benefits: it will catch more cheaters and improve the culture of sports by rewarding the athletes who are clean. Susan Gilbert, staff writer for The Hastings Center, explains how the biological passport works, which organizations are using it, and what the skeptics say.
The Hastings Center is a nonpartisan bioethics research institution dedicated to bioethics and the public interest since 1969. The Center is a pioneer in collaborative interdisciplinary research and dialogue on the ethical and social impact of advances in health care and the life sciences. The Center draws on a worldwide network of experts to frame and examine issues that inform professional practice, public conversation, and social policy. Learn more about The Hastings Center at www.thehastingscenter.org.