Fair play stressed in steroid talk

A lecture at MU discussed how athletes can aid drug control.
Friday, April 28, 2006 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 2:23 a.m. CDT, Thursday, July 3, 2008

Thomas Murray says the most valuable attributes in sports are natural talent and the way in which an athlete works to perfect that talent. Steroid use undermines the spirit of sports and disrupts the beauty of hard work and natural ability, Murray said in a Thursday lecture at MU.

“Sports are a celebration of human difference, effort, dedication and intelligence,” he said. “Sports are about the person undistorted.”

Murray is the president of the Hastings Center, an independent, non-partisan, non-profit bioethics think tank that researches ethical issues in healthcare, biotechnology and the environment.

“Thomas Murray is one of the great forces in ethics and bioethics in the country,” said MU philosophy professor Bill Bondeson, who introduced Murray at the event.

Murray started researching performance-enhancing drug use over 25 years ago as part of a project with the Hastings Center. Since that time, Murray has served on the U.S. Olympic Anti-Doping Committee and is currently the chair of the ethical issues review panel of the World Anti-Doping Agency.

Athletes are the strongest advocates of drug control, he said, because they want to compete fairly. As part of his research, Murray examined common arguments against steroid control. While some consider drug use a personal choice for athletes and a way to maintain their individual liberty, Murray found that most athletes who use steroids do so because of external pressures.

Athletes felt pressured to use drugs to keep up with other athletes, he said. If drugs are used in competition, Murray said, athletes have three basic options. An individual athlete can compete against drug-using competitors without using and hope to win. The athlete can drop out of the competition because he or she does not want to use drugs and does not want to compete against other users. Or the athlete can choose to use drugs to keep up with competitors. Drug control presents athletes with a fourth option, Murray said — the chance to compete on a level playing field.

But drug enhancement use is also a case of situational ethics, Murray said, questioning whether or not it is morally right for a surgeon to use steroids to steady his hand movement. Because the goal of the surgeon is to perform a successful operation, thereby enhancing a patient’s quality of life, would it be wrong for the surgeon to use a drug for that purpose? The answer is not as clear cut as it is in the sports world, Murray said, where steroids violate the value of sport.

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