Back in the 1980s, experts thought that athletes who took performance-enhancing drugs such as anabolic steroids or stimulants wouldn’t work and that users would die. However, once people started to realize this wasn’t true, they began to explode in popularity.
Athletes realized that they did work, as their competitors who they’d faced in the past were performing on entirely different levels.
The medical experts came to realize that these anabolic steroids were being used and that they did pose some health risks, bringing to light some ethical questions. Did these risks justify the banning of these performance-enhancing drugs or should individual liberty prevail?
Dr. Thomas Murray delivered a speech that delved into some important topics and issues in the field of bioethics on Wednesday, Sept. 16 in the newly renovated Williams Hall.
Murray talked about a range of topics related to bioethics throughout the lecture. He formerly was the president of the American Society of Bioethics and Humanities and also is President Emeritus at The Hastings Center, among other accolades.
The field of bioethics has to do with ethical issues in the fields of biology and medicine often from scientific advancements. Murray talked specifically about the role of performance-enhancing drugs in sports. He began by saying his research had gone all the way back to the 1980s. Along the way he talked to many athletes from various sports including members of the Philadelphia Eagles and the 76ers legend Julius “Dr. J” Erving.
For athletes the question of why they use performance-enhancing drugs is very loaded and complex. He first stated that above all, sports are “relentlessly competitive.” Murray then stated that when drugs enter a sport and make a difference the athletes have three options that boil down to an ethical decision. They can compete at a disadvantage to those athletes who are taking drugs and hope their talent prevails, take their talents elsewhere, or join in on the cheating.
Michelle Wolff, ’18, who was one of the students at the lecture, found this concept especially interesting.
“It’s really a personal battle (for the athletes) and people can say it’s illegal or it’s wrong, but it’s your personal choice whether you want to give in to using the performance enhancing drugs or whether you want to walk away from it.”
Murray said that drug testing is put in place then to take out this decision and create a level playing field for the athletes. He asserted that performance-enhancing drugs were “tyrannical” because if they take hold of a sport, no one has a chance if they don’t use them.
One of the most prominent examples that he brought up was cycling. It took hold of the sport and completely changed it because everyone was either forced to take these performance-enhancing drugs or be unable to compete.
Murray highlighted at the end of his lecture some of the reasons why we resist performance-enhancing drugs in sports. These reasons included promoting fair competition and preventing harm to the athletes. Harm is prevented because if performance-enhancing drugs aren’t contained, there is never-ending pressure to do more of them, both in higher doses and bizarre combinations. He also said we resist them to preserve the meaning in sports and the variety of ways of being human sports provide.