Gene doping is more fair, not unfair

Friday, 1 August, 2008

Gene doping – the enhancement of athletic ability by genetic manipulation – is a big issue around the upcoming Olympic games in Beijing. The hippies at Friends of the Earth have decried the practice of gene doping in a recent press release. Gillian Madill, a genetic technology campaigner, said this:

“Altering one’s genetic makeup to impact athletic performance is unacceptable. Gene doping is cheating, and it’s dangerous. Professional sports organizations should ban it. All athletes deserve to compete on an even playing field. Gene doping undermines that right.”

“Friends of the Earth opposes all genetic modification of life, including human life. It is important to protect the gene pool, our most basic common natural good, from genetic pollution caused by genetic engineering. It is impossible for humans to comprehend the implications of manipulating the genetic makeup of nature.”

It should be obvious to anyone who has read this blog for more than five seconds that I completely disagree with almost everything she said.

I fully acknowledge that gene doping is unaccepted, but not that it is unacceptable. Gene doping is cheating only because it is against the rules, not because it is inherently unfair. It is dangerous though, I will agree with that (and with a ban against it, it can only get more dangerous).

But that’s not the worst part (by worst, I mean most obviously wrong). Madill says that gene doping undermines the athletes right to compete on a level playing field. Unbelievable. I’ve already talked of this argument before, so now I can do no more than quote Julian Savalescu:

“Sport discriminates against the genetically unfit. Sport is the province of the genetic elite (or freak). […] By allowing everyone to take performance enhancing drugs, we level the playing field. We remove the effects of genetic inequality. Far from being unfair, allowing performance enhancement promotes equality.”

The most level playing field possible would occur when all athletes have a standard body and a standard genome, much like motor racing does with standards on their cars. If it’s a level playing field you want, then how can you justify keeping the natural inequality that pervades athletic competition?

As for the last part on genetic technology in general, I am reminded that one man’s ‘pollution’ is another man’s enhancement. I’ll keep my genes out of the human gene pool if necessary, but I reserve the right to ‘pollute’ my own body. And everyone else can do the same.

I also don’t think it is “impossible for humans to comprehend the implications of manipulating the genetic makeup of nature”, but I will admit that we don’t know everything about the implications. That is a reason to use caution, but not at all a reason to stop genetic technologies altogether. After all, we don’t know the implications of banning genetic technologies, so maybe Madill should follow her own advice and ban the ban (then again, she doesn’t know the full implications of doing that either).


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