Perfect Humans – Is It Really Wrong To Enhance Athletes?

Mark_mcgwire

Mark McGwire, St. Louis, 2001. Photo: Rick Dikeman (CC)

Now that the Olympics are over, science writer Quinn Norton asks if there’s contradictory rules when athletes technologically enhance their bodies. “A new injectable hormone will quickly become anathema, but seeking multiple LASIK eye surgeries to get better than 20/20 vision is a professional responsibility… Another instructive example is Tommy John surgery, an operation that replaces the ligament in the elbow that tends to suffer most in baseball pitchers. This surgery lets them pitch harder for longer, and despite being a major surgical modification, it isn’t viewed negatively.”

And here’s an even better example. “Injections of synthetic Erythropoietin to boost performance are a major no-no in sports. It’s considered blood doping. But athletes can produce EPO another way: by sleeping in a hypobaric chamber. This reduces oxygen and air pressure to what it would be somewhere 10,000-15,000 feet above sea level. The body responds by producing its own EPO — and lots of it — to get as much oxygen to the sleeping muscles as it can in the deprived environment. After a few weeks in one of these chambers, training in the thick O2 bath at sea level is a breeze. And sleeping in a hypobaric chamber would not be considered cheating any more than pitching a tent halfway up Everest.”

But more importantly, the debate about enhancement will affect everybody. “When we’re deciding if we should give Modafinil to pilots or Ritalin to grad students, we.re making life and death choices about what our future will look like.”

“Athletes may very well be leading the rest of society into the debate about who, how, and why people will be allowed — or even required — to enhance their bodies.”

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  • Hadrian999

    we should view it as a responsibility to make ourselves a s perfect as possible.

    • GoodDoktorBad

      Define “perfect” perfectly. Define “responsibility” responsibly. Define “possible” possibly?

      • Hadrian999

        if we have a way to make ourselves, faster, stronger, smarter, longer lived, more resistant to disease we should take them and not hide from our potential out of primitive superstition

        • honu

          yeah fine except all this self experimentation with drugs and genetics in pursuit of something 'better' or more 'perfect' as you say, has historically demonstrated incredibly negative downsides i.e. over use of steroids, hormones and unstable genetic mutations. Just because we can do these things doesn't mean we comprehend the ramifications of what we do nor understand on a fundamental level that every action has a consequence. The marketing for enhancements and cutting edge science is incredible. There's never an honest debate or show of information explaining the down sides of these things. I may sound like a hippie but the truth is that getting away or ignoring the natural balance of things destabilizes us.

          • Hadrian999

            if we left it to natural balance we'd still be dieing from small pox tuberculosis
            and have a life span of 45 years.

          • Word Eater

            Somebody has to be “first” to do the experimenting or we never advance.

            It is impossible to evaluate every possible outcome or every possible side-effect before actually doing something.

            Also, human bodies are different. Different blood types, different anti-bodies, different DNA. You can't test for all possible variations.

            We must “do” or we will die.

        • GoodDoktorBad

          I'm not really disputing you. Its just your choice of words are a little misleading in your original post.
          ..and since words are supposed to mean something, the definition of “perfect” etc. beg for clarification and would be important when considering the use of “enhancements”. No superstition necessary, just caution will do.

  • ebwolf

    With most discussions I've had, the thing that bothers people the most is the fact that these athletes are dishonestly passing themselves off as “natural” when they are actually products of modern chemistry. Granted, they can't come out and admit publicly that they use enhancers or they would lose their lucrative paydays as well as being crucified in the press and,possibly, be criminally prosecuted. But as long as the potential for fame and fortune through athletics exists, performance enhancers are here to stay.

    I say let 'em go for it. At least it would remove the deceit factor from the equation.

    Besides, we're likely to see the ability to rewrite our genetic codes within the next few decades (if not sooner) become commonplace. If we can't come to terms with people supplementing their natural levels of growth hormone by then, what kind of shit storm will future enhancement technologies unleash?

  • Your Obedient Serpent

    Everyone in our modern culture is expected, as a societal norm, to dose themselves to the point of addiction with caffeine — a stimulant with a long list of adverse side effects, physiological and psychological — in order to keep pace with the small subset of individuals suffering from Type A Personality Disorder.

  • Your Obedient Serpent

    Everyone in our modern culture is expected, as a societal norm, to dose themselves to the point of addiction with caffeine — a stimulant with a long list of adverse side effects, physiological and psychological — in order to keep pace with the small subset of individuals suffering from Type A Personality Disorder.