Current anti-doping policy: a critical appraisal
1 Professor, Institute of movement sciences and sports medicine, Faculty of medicine, University of Geneva, Switzerland
2 Professor, Institute of biomedical ethics, Faculty of medicine, University of Geneva, Switzerland
3 Reader, University of Paisley, Scotland, UK
BMC Medical Ethics 2007, 8:2 doi:10.1186/1472-6939-8-2Published: 29 March 2007
Current anti-doping in competitive sports is advocated for reasons of fair-play and concern for the athlete's health. With the inception of the World Anti Doping Agency (WADA), anti-doping effort has been considerably intensified. Resources invested in anti-doping are rising steeply and increasingly involve public funding. Most of the effort concerns elite athletes with much less impact on amateur sports and the general public.
We review this recent development of increasingly severe anti-doping control measures and find them based on questionable ethical grounds. The ethical foundation of the war on doping consists of largely unsubstantiated assumptions about fairness in sports and the concept of a "level playing field". Moreover, it relies on dubious claims about the protection of an athlete's health and the value of the essentialist view that sports achievements reflect natural capacities. In addition, costly antidoping efforts in elite competitive sports concern only a small fraction of the population. From a public health perspective this is problematic since the high prevalence of uncontrolled, medically unsupervised doping practiced in amateur sports and doping-like behaviour in the general population (substance use for performance enhancement outside sport) exposes greater numbers of people to potential harm. In addition, anti-doping has pushed doping and doping-like behaviour underground, thus fostering dangerous practices such as sharing needles for injection. Finally, we argue that the involvement of the medical profession in doping and anti-doping challenges the principles of non-maleficience and of privacy protection. As such, current anti-doping measures potentially introduce problems of greater impact than are solved, and place physicians working with athletes or in anti-doping settings in an ethically difficult position. In response, we argue on behalf of enhancement practices in sports within a framework of medical supervision.
Current anti-doping strategy is aimed at eradication of doping in elite sports by means of all-out repression, buttressed by a war-like ideology similar to the public discourse sustaining international efforts against illicit drugs. Rather than striving for eradication of doping in sports, which appears to be an unattainable goal, a more pragmatic approach aimed at controlled use and harm reduction may be a viable alternative to cope with doping and doping-like behaviour.