Last updated on: 11/10/2008 | Author:

Is a Potential Negative Impact on the Athlete’s Health a Valid Reason to Ban Performance Enhancing Drugs in Sports?

General Reference (not clearly pro or con)

[Editor’s Note: the term “paternalism” appears in several responses below, so we have provided the definition here.]

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, in an article titled “Paternalism,” posted on its website on Dec. 20, 2005, wrote:

“Paternalism is the interference of a state or an individual with another person, against their will, and justified by a claim that the person interfered with will be better off or protected from harm. The issue of paternalism arises with respect to restrictions by the law such as anti-drug legislation, the compulsory wearing of seatbelts, and in medical contexts by the withholding of relevant information concerning a patient’s condition by physicians.”

Dec. 20, 2005 - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

PRO (yes)


Joe Lindsey, contributing writer for Bicycling magazine, wrote in an Oct. 23, 2008 email to

“Adults are free to make their own choices with respect to what drugs they put in their body (although they do have to face the consequences – personal and legal – of doing so). The problem for sports doping is that some of the substances athletes use are not approved for human medical use at any level. Trenbolone, for instance, is a cattle steroid. So the school of thought that advocates legalizing doping, or holds that an athlete has the right to choose whether to endanger his health, is ignoring a completely separate ethical and legal question: should people have the right to use a substance that is not legal for human use under ANY circumstances? The answer cannot be anything other than ‘No.'”

Oct. 23, 2008 - Joe Lindsey


Steve Olivier, PhD, Professor of Sport and Exercise Science at the University of Abertay Dundee, wrote in his article titled “Drugs in Sports: Justifying Paternalism on the Grounds of Harm,” published in the Nov./Dec. 1996 issue of the American Journal of Sports Medicine:

“Athletes should be prohibited from taking performance-enhancing substances such as stimulants and steroids because these drugs can harm those who use them. Although some would argue that a person has a right to choose whether to risk harm to one’s own body, the use of drugs in sports can place athletes in a situation in which they feel coerced into taking drugs in order to compete. In addition, society has an interest in preventing the violence associated with the use of steroids and other drugs.”

Nov./Dec. 1996 - Steve Olivier


Gary S. Becker, PhD, Professor in the Departments of Economics, Graduate School of Business, and Sociology at the University of Chicago, wrote in an Aug. 27, 2006 entry titled “Doping in Sports” on the Becker-Posner blog:

“[P]erformance enhancers, like steroids and other forms of doping, have a negative effect on long-term health. For then users of these enhancers are hurting themselves in the long run without on the average improving their short-term rewards from athletic competition, as long as competitors also use harmful enhancers. This is the main rationale for trying to ban steroids and other forms of doping from athletic competitions.”

Aug. 27, 2006 - Gary S. Becker, PhD


Keith Burgess-Jackson, JD, PhD, Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Texas at Arlington, wrote in a Dec. 5, 2004 article titled “Performance-Enhancing Drugs,” posted on his website:

“In general, I’m not a paternalist, but some of these drugs are dangerous. Ken Caminiti, the former Most Valuable Player of the National League, died recently — in his forties. He admitted to using steroids. Lyle Alzado, a former football player, died young. He, too, had used steroids. These appear to be deadly substances. Doesn’t society have an interest in protecting people from their own folly?”

Dec. 5, 2004 - Keith Burgess-Jackson, JD, PhD

CON (no)


Lewis Kurlantzick, LLB, Zephaniah Swift Professor of Law at the University of Connecticut School of Law, wrote in his Apr. 12, 2006 article titled “Is There a Steroids Problem? The Problematic Character of the Case for Regulation,” published in the New England Law Review:

“Athletes are in a position to make a decision about what behavior is in their best interest, to weigh the risks and benefits according to their own values. And a paternalistic rule that attempts to prevent the athlete from harming himself runs counter to the important values of independence and personal choice. Moreover, it is likely that the feared harm is neither life-threatening nor irreversible. Presumably, under this health rationale, if performance is enhanced by substances that cause neither short-term nor long-term harm to the athlete, these substances should not be banned.”

Apr. 12, 2006 - Lewis Kurlantzick, LLB


Robert Simon, PhD, Professor of Philosophy at Hamilton College, wrote in his 2003 book Fair Play: The Ethics of Sport:

“If each of us ought to be free to assume risks that we think are worth taking, shouldn’t athletes have the same freedom as anyone else? In particular, if athletes prefer the gains in performance allegedly provided by the use of steroids, along with the increased risk of harm to the alternative of less risk and worse performance, what gives anyone the right to interfere with their choice? After all, if we should not forbid smokers from risking their health by smoking, why should we prohibit track stars or weightlifters from taking risks with their health in pursuit of their goals?”

2003 - Robert Simon, PhD


Jasmin Guénette, MA, Academic Programs Director of the Institute of Humane Studies at George Mason University, wrote in his article “In Defence of Steroids,” published June 18, 2006 in the webzine Le Québécois Libre:

“Steroids should be legal even if they may cause health problem for some heavy users. People are smart enough to make the best possible decisions — as they see fit — for their own lives. And if some take too many steroids, it’s their own personal problems, not a ‘social’ problem.”

June 18, 2006 - Jasmin Guénette, MA


Lincoln Allison, DLitt, founding director of Warwick University’s Centre for the Study of Sport in Society, wrote in an Aug. 9, 2004 article titled “Faster, Stronger, Higher,” and published in the Guardian:

“The appendix to the orthodox view is that people must be protected from performance-enhancing drugs because they are damaging to health. Let me concede immediately that no one should ever be coerced into taking drugs, as so many sportsmen (and probably even more sportswomen) were under communist regimes.

But we know that many performers know the risks and are prepared to take them. It is also true (and rarely mentioned) that often the risk is slight and that sometimes there is an overall benefit to health. (As a 57-year-old athlete, I take anti-inflammatories that are probably on the banned list.) In general, the risk to health from performance-enhancing drugs is considerably less than that from tobacco or alcohol, and we ought not to apply paternalistic moral assumptions to sport that we are not prepared to apply to the rest of life.”

Aug. 9, 2004 - Lincoln Allison, DLitt