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Performance enhancing drugs may not be bad for sports

Matthew Syed Jul 5, 2011
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Performance enhancing drugs may not be bad for sports

Matthew Syed Jul 5, 2011
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Kai Ryssdal: Today was Day Four of the world’s best known bicycle race. The Tour de France runs more than three weeks. It covers 2,000 miles. It’s beyond grueling, by any description, which perhaps explains why so many riders cheat. The race been dogged by allegations of doping. Tour champions have been stripped of their titles. But how to make it clean?

Commentator and sportswriter Matthew Syed has a thought.


Matthew Syed: One way to eliminate cheating, of course, would be to legalize drug taking — without rules to break, cheating would cease to exist by definition. But many people would not consider this an improvement. The dangers of excessive doping are well known, ranging from cancer to ovarian cysts.

So instead of legalizing all drugs, how about merely legalizing safe drugs? After all, steroids and EPO — the two most common drugs — are pretty safe when taken in moderate quantities. What is wrong with improving human capacity when there is little associated danger?

This question has added urgency when you consider that enhancements in the future might be able to improve not merely performance in sport, but in life beyond. Genetic engineering may open the door to enhancements which boost such things as intelligence and lifespan. If this can be done safely, why not try?

Of course, many feel queasy at the very thought of altering human DNA. They argue that even if safety can be guaranteed, it would still be morally wrong to do so; that somehow the performances of those who have been genetically engineered would be artificial.

But why is this? Suppose, to take a hypothetical, there was an enhancement that could boost intelligence. Would we really want to ban it? After all, politicians attempt to enhance intelligence all the time; that is the whole point of the education system. So, why not attempt to achieve precisely the same outcome via genetic engineering?

Scientists are currently seeking to genetically engineer resistance to cancer. Should this research be banned on the grounds that the means are “artificial”? This sounds nothing less than crazy.

We should remember that the human genome is the product of an arbitrary process of evolution. Is it not time to embrace any safe intervention that can improve lives or reduce suffering, both within sport and beyond?


Ryssdal: Matthew Syed’s most recent book is called Bounce. Got an opinion? Send ’em in.

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