Performance Enhancing Drugs

Using steroids because we no longer get the same erections we once had, or because a middle-aged man has less energy than he did at twenty (or a woman has less libido than considered ideal), is increasingly considered normal, while the list of substances banned for people like Mark McGwire grows longer and longer, the invasive tests intended to expose any transgression more and more extensive. As a society, we suffer from a paradoxical pharamacological puritanism, expecting medical technology to change our lives and yet demanding that it not change our games.

(From Andrew Sullivan via Greg Downey)

When you think about it, the outrage does seem arbitrary. I suppose one argument against steroids in sports (baseball) is the preservation of the tradition of the game, with specific reference to the home run chase re: Mark McGwire. When McGwire/Sosa/Bonds hit so many home runs, we were able to benchmark their achievements against the historical numbers of Ruth/Aaron.

But modern-day athletic competition is anything but normalized against history. Modern ball players have been in weight rooms since grade school, taking (non-steroid) supplements, using computers to view game tape, swing analyses, pitch/swing/situational breakdowns, etc. There is no time that athletes have been better prepared for every circumstance. They hit farther, throw harder, run faster, and heal quicker than at any point in human history.

Yet the steroid issue is cheating, rather than utilizing the technology available to you.

You could say that because both pitchers and batters have access to the same resources baseball does in fact normalize itself over time. Maybe I’ll buy that, but it doesn’t make the exclusion of advancements in pharmacology any less arbitrary.

I’ve never done it, but I know a big thing at a lot of colleges (definitely including Penn) is the use of mental-enhancement drugs like Adderall during finals and exam time. Andrew Sullivan actually blogged about this issue exactly a year ago. It’s an interesting moral question: is it cheating to enhance normal bodily processes, or is it an efficient use of resources? And how does it really differ from, say, taking aspirin?

The circumstances he quotes are particularly intriguing:

[W]hat if, for example, your child needs a lifesaving but risky and complex 15-hour surgery? Wouldn’t you want that doctor to be as alert as possible throughout the procedure, even if that meant using Provigil or another cognitive-enhancer? Or what if your son is on the ground in Afghanistan? Wouldn’t you want him to be able to take a dose of Ritalin before going on patrol, so he’s sharp and ready to defend himself?