The ethics of doping.

Colin Blakemore ponders the awkward question of what’s so bad about it:

Despite the immediate outcry at any sniff of doping (such as American innuendo about the “unbelievable” performance of the 16-year old Chinese swimming prodigy Ye Shiwen), there is some ethical uncertainty. For instance, high-altitude training makes the body produce the hormone erythropoietin, which stimulates the production of more oxygen-carrying red blood cells. That’s legal. But just injecting erythropoietin (EPO) is a cardinal sin.

Cases like this look blatantly silly, to me. Surely the point is that doping offends us when an athlete gets an advantage through drug use that no other human could naturally acquire. EPO injections could thus be seen as short-cuts to the gaining of simple benefits. They don’t turn you into Superman.

And yet, even then the uncertainty returns. If what’s so bad about the extreme doping is that one person will have an unfair advantage, that could as easily be remedied by allowing everyone to use the drugs as it would be by allowing noone. How about the thought that the drugs could hurt the athletes, instead? Well, easy on the paternalism. Think where such a principle could lead. And I guess it’s still not clear, ultimately, what the ethically salient difference between steroids and bananas are. Both involve the consumption of chemicals to give you a boost. The grounds for a blanket ban could be very slippery indeed.

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