Should the Use of Performance Enhancing Drugs in Sports Be Legalized?



PRO (yes)

Bengt Kayser, MD, PhD, Professor of Exercise Physiology, and Alexandre Mauron, PhD, Professor of Bioethics, both at the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Geneva, Switzerland, along with Andy Miah, PhD, Reader in New Media and Bioethics at the School of Media, Language, and Music at the University of the West of Scotland, UK, in their Dec. 2005 The Lancet article "Viewpoint: Legalisation of Performance-Enhancing Drugs," wrote:

"Antidoping policies exist, in theory, to encourage fair play. However, we believe they are unfounded, dangerous, and excessively costly...

We believe that rather than drive doping underground, use of drugs should be permitted under medical supervision.

Legalisation of the use of drugs in sport might even have some advantages. The boundary between the therapeutic and ergogenic - ie, performance enhancing - use of drugs is blurred at present and poses difficult questions for the controlling bodies of antidoping practice and for sports doctors. The antidoping rules often lead to complicated and costly administrative and medical follow-up to ascertain whether drugs taken by athletes are legitimate therapeutic agents or illicit...

Furthermore, legalisation of doping, we believe, would encourage more sensible, informed use of drugs in amateur sport, leading to an overall decline in the rate of health problems associated with doping. Finally, by allowing medically supervised doping, the drugs used could be assessed for a clearer view of what is dangerous and what is not...

Acknowledging the importance of rules in sports, which might include the prohibition of doping, is, in itself, not problematic. However, a problem arises when the application of these rules is beset with diminishing returns: escalating costs and questionable effectiveness."

Dec. 2005 - Bengt Kayser, MD, PhD 
Alexandre Mauron, PhD 
Andy Miah, PhD 



Bennett Foddy, DPhil, Harold T. Shapiro Postdoctoral Fellowship in Bioethics at the Center for Human Values at Princeton University, and Julian Savulescu, PhD, Professor and Uehiro Chair in Practical Ethics at the University of Oxford, in their June 2007 Principle of Health Care Ethics article "Ethics of Performance Enhancement in Sport: Drugs and Gene Doping," wrote:

"It would be much easier to eliminate the anti-doping rules than to eliminate doping. The current policy against doping has proved expensive and difficult to police. In the near future it may become impossible to police...

Because doping is illegal, the pressure is to make performance enhancers undetectable, rather than safe. Performance enhancers are produced or bought on the black market and administered in a clandestine, uncontrolled way with no monitoring of the athlete's health. Allowing the use of performance enhancers would make sport safer as there would be less pressure on athletes to take unsafe enhancers and a pressure to develop new safe performance enhancers and to make existing enhancers more effective at safe dosages...

The removal of doping controls would have major benefits: less cheating, increased solidarity and respect between athletes, more focus on sport and not on rules.

[I]n order to justify the current doping controls, these arguments have to justify the ban's yearly multi-million dollar cost, and the intangible costs, and they must outweigh the benefits we would get if we abolished doping controls. We should focus on health of athletes, not performance enhancement.

Rather than attempting to detect undetectable enhancers, we should spend our limited resources on evaluating health and fitness to compete. There are good reasons to allow performance enhancement, to make sport fairer (in the sense that the rules are equally applied) and to narrow the gap between the cheaters and the honest athletes. It would provide a better spectacle, be safer and less coercive."

June 2007 - Bennett Foddy, DPhil 
Julian Savulescu, PhD 



Adrianne Blue, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Journalism and Publishing at City University London, UK, in her Aug. 14, 2006 New Statesman article "It's the Real Dope," wrote:

"Today, sport's dirty little secret is drugs, and it is high time we made them legal. Performance-enhancing drugs may not be desirable, but they are here to stay. What we can do away with is the hypocrisy.

Insiders know that many - perhaps most - top players in all sports take drugs to train harder and feel no pain during play. The trainers, sports doctors, nutritionists, physiotherapists and managers of the big names make sure banned substances are taken at the safest and most efficient levels, and when they can, the governing bodies look the other way...

What many of us don't realise is that sports doping rarely gives you a free ride. If you or I were to take anabolic steroids and sit down in front of the telly, we would not build muscle or speed or endurance. Drugs allow you to train harder. They help you recover more quickly from a hard session so you can work hard again the next day. Some drugs boost the body's propensity for building muscle or its ability to use oxygen, but you still have to do the work...

Tales of sport doping go back to ancient Egypt, where the hoof of an Abyssinian ass ground up and boiled in oil was prescribed to improve performance. In the 19th century, boxers took heroin before going into the ring. The legendary 1960s Manchester United goalkeeper Harry Gregg has confessed that he took amphetamines before matches...

The main effect of banning such substances has been to turn performers and their coaches into liars and cheats. We should legalise performance-enhancing drugs so that they can be regulated and athletes on the way up - whose entourages do not yet include savvy physiotherapists and doctors - don't overdose and do themselves damage."

Aug. 14, 2006 - Adrianne Blue 



Radley Balko, Senior Editor of Reason magazine, in the Jan. 15, 2008 Intelligence Squared US debate titled "We Should Accept Performance-Enhancing Drugs in Competitive Sports," moderated by Bob Costas, stated:

"As we've seen with government bans on consensual activity - from alcohol to gambling to cocaine to prostitution - prohibitions not only don't work, they make the activity in question more dangerous by pushing it underground...

Our society has an oddly schizophrenic relationship with pharmaceuticals and medical technology. If something can be said to be 'natural', we tend to be okay with it. If it seems lab-made or synthetic we tend to be leery. But even synthetic drugs and manmade technology seem to be okay if the aim is to make sick or broken people whole again...

It's also important to note that we consider perfectly natural and acceptable today was quite out of the ordinary not so long ago. 100 years ago, life expectancy in the U.S. was 50 years of age. Today it's 78. Thanks to technology, medicine, and pharmaceuticals we are today taller, stronger, faster, healthier, and can expect to live longer than ever before...

Sports is about exploring and stretching the limits of human potential. Going back even to the pre-modern Olympics, when athletes ate live bees and ate crushed sheep testicles to get a leg up on the competition, sports has never been some wholesome display of physical ability alone. Ingenuity, innovation, and knowledge about what makes us faster and stronger (and avoiding what might do more harm than good) has always been a part of the game...

[A] free society isn't really free at all if it doesn't include the freedom to make what some may believe are bad decisions."

Jan. 15, 2008 - Radley Balko 



Gary Cartwright, writer for the Texas Monthly, in the magazine's Apr. 2008 article "Truth and Consequences: Yes, Roger Clemens Is a Jerk. But Congress Shouldn't Make a Federal Case Over Whether He Lied About Using Steroids," wrote:

"Who among us hasn't used performance enhancers, preferably with ice and an olive? Steroids, synthetic substances similar to testosterone, can be as benign as those that are commonly prescribed for allergies and as harmful as those that have sent many retired athletes into physical decline; as with any medication, the effect depends on the dose and frequency of use...

For the most part, however, the only thing certifiably bad about steroids is that they may improve athletic performance. Somehow we've decided that the only hardworking professionals who shouldn't be permitted to enhance their performances are athletes. Amphetamines were staples in professional training rooms in the sixties and seventies...

Then there is the myth that steroids are turning players into freaks. Players have always been freaks. That's what makes them so different from the rest of us. No normal person can throw a baseball 98 miles an hour. Normal people can't run a slant-in and catch a football with a 250-pound linebacker waiting to cream them...

It is time to admit that not all steroids are dangerous and that every individual and every situation cannot be addressed with the same set of rigid rules. Instead of banning steroids, we should control them. Cool the hysteria; educate without scaring."

Apr. 2008 - Gary Cartwright 



CON (no)

Thomas H. Murray, PhD, President of the Hastings Center, in the chapter "Sports Enhancement" published in the 2008-2009 From Birth to Death and Bench to Clinic: The Hastings Center Bioethics Briefing Book for Journalists, Policymakers, and Campaigns, wrote:

"There are several reasons to ban performance-enhancing drugs: respect for the rules of sports, recognition that natural talents and their perfection are the point of sports, and the prospect of an 'arms race' in athletic performance...

The rules in each sport in effect determine which characteristics among all possible sources of difference influence who wins and who loses...

Many innovations that would surely improve performance are banned outright. An athlete who showed up for the Boston Marathon wearing Rollerblades would be wheeled right off the start line...

Rules are changed at times to preserve a sport. Basketball banned goaltending—swatting the ball away just as it was about to go into the hoop—when players became so tall and athletic that they could stand by the basket and prevent most shots from having a chance to go in...

When performance-enhancing drugs have the power to overcome differences in natural talents and the willingness to sacrifice and persevere in the quest to perfect those talents, we cannot avoid confronting the question, What do we value in sport? Emerging technologies—from hypoxic chambers and carbon fiber prostheses to genetic manipulation—will force us [to] consider what, after all, is the point of sport?...Sports that revere records and historical comparisons (think of baseball and home runs) would become unmoored by drug-aided athletes obliterating old standards. Athletes, caught in the sport arms race, would be pressed to take more and more drugs, in ever wilder combinations and at increasingly higher doses...

The drug race in sport has the potential to create a slow-motion public health catastrophe. Finally, we may lose whatever is most graceful, beautiful, and admirable about sport."

2008-2009 - Thomas H. Murray, PhD 



Carl Djerassi, PhD, Professor Emeritus in the Department of Chemistry at Stanford University, in his Oct. 7, 2007 San Francisco Chronicle article "Athletes and Steroids: Will Tomorrow's Game Involve Drug Advisers?," wrote:

"Though logical, such acceptance or legalization of performance-enhancing aids has serious ramifications. I predict that a new subset of drugs - for which I propose the term 'lusuceuticals'...will arise. These new drugs will follow the model of commercially successful products labeled 'nutraceuticals' and 'cosmeceuticals' that have already crossed the sharply defined boundaries of standard pharmaceuticals designed to treat diseases...

But will lusu-chemists...limit themselves to much safer anabolic drugs, now that detectability will be of no concern? Or will they head into much more questionable directions, such as growth hormone analogs that will lead to 71/2-foot-tall pole vaulters or basketball players?...

Whatever we do in terms of legalizing drug abuse in athletics, we are heading in the direction of changing the Olympics from a competition of athletes to one of chemists, where the emphasis will shift abruptly from body to mind...

As a chemist, I ought to welcome such a prospect, because the mind does not deteriorate as rapidly as the body. Nevertheless, I dread such a future."

Oct. 7, 2007 - Carl Djerassi, PhD 



Joe Lindsey, Contributing Writer for Bicycling magazine, in his article "Why Legalizing Sports Doping Won't Work," published on July 27, 2007 in the New York Times column "Freakonomics" by Stephen J. Dubner, wrote:

"One, not all cyclists dope, nor do they want to...The vast majority of cyclists who would prefer to race clean...are instead tempted to dope simply to keep up with the small minority who aggressively dope for a competitive advantage...Modern oxygen-vector doping is so effective, a rider has two choices: dope and keep up, or stay clean and fall behind...

Second, not all doping techniques are created equal. The most effective regimens are also the most sophisticated and expensive...So if doping is legalized, the sport's richest riders and teams will have access to techniques that lesser lights don't. The playing field, never level, would be tilted permanently.

Medical laws and medical ethics prevent us from letting athletes use these substances outside of a clinical trial. But athletes, who eagerly seek out anything that will give them a competitive edge, will still try and get them...Simply put, wherever you draw the line, something, some technique or substance, will always be off-limits. And so you've merely moved the line, not erased it...

Finally, none of that addresses the moral problems involved in legalizing doping. Doping in sports isn't inherently wrong; it's wrong by the value system with which we judge sports. Sports themselves are by their nature civilized: everyone agrees to follow a certain set of rules. If you don't, that's cheating. Legalizing doping doesn't change those rules as much as remove them altogether, and then it's no longer a sport, but merely entertainment. Right or wrong, we look to sports and to athletes for an inspiration that mere entertainment cannot provide - there is an implicit contract that the sweat and effort we see before us is real and natural. Do you want to see who's the best athlete, or just who had the best access to pharmaceutical enhancement?"

July 27, 2007 - Joe Lindsey 



George Michael, creator and former host of Sports Machine on NBC, in the Jan. 15, 2007 Intelligence Squared US debate titled "We Should Accept Performance-Enhancing Drugs in Competitive Sports," moderated by Bob Costas, stated:

"[I]n 2002...17 percent of total baseball payroll went to guys who were on the injured list with muscle tears, muscle strains, ruptured Achilles tendon, and on goes the list. [Dr. James Andrews] said that we have had a 200 percent increase in just the five years prior to 2002. Baseball owners paid $370 million to players who were not able to play. Most of them according to Dr. Andrews, were related to their use of anabolic steroids. And you now want to admit--legalize it, and govern it?...

I'm probably the only guy in the room who is friends with professional wrestlers, I started in 1980 with Bob Backlund...Guys that are just names to you like Hulk Hogan, Ricky Steamboat, Nature Boy, Rick Flair, these are all friends of mine. I wanted to call and check with some of the wrestlers I used to know, how they're doing today. How'd they recover after the use of steroids. I went to call them and you know what I found? Of the wrestlers who were professional stars, 40 were dead by the age of 40. 70 were dead by the age of 50. But there's no clinical proof that they died of steroid abuse even though they all used steroids.

Here's the bottom line. I am not willing to pay the price for legalizing steroids and performance-enhancing drugs, because I've seen too often what it can do. I don't want to go to the cemetery and tell all the athletes who are dead there, hey guys, soon you'll have a lot more of your friends coming, because we're going to legalize this stuff. The only good news out of it? They wouldn't hear the news. Because they're all dead."

Jan. 15, 2007 - George Michael 



Tom Davis, JD, US Representative (R-VA), was quoted in his May 26, 2005 news article "McCain, Davis, and Waxman Announce Introduction of 'Clean Sports Act of 2005,'" published on his website, as having said:

"Two months ago, the Government Reform Committee held our first hearing on steroids, looking into the use of performance-enhancing drugs in Major League Baseball...

We know this is a national public health crisis.

We are here today to announce the introduction of legislation that is aimed at not only getting rid of performance enhancing drugs on the professional level, but also to send a message loud and clear to the young people of America: Steroids are illegal. Steroids are dangerous. They can be deadly. And there is no place for them in our sports leagues or on our school grounds."

May 26, 2005 - Tom Davis, JD 



Jay P. Granat, PhD, Psychotherapist and Founder of the Stay In The Zone website, in the Sep. 23, 2007 Sunday show titled "Doping in Sports - Here To Stay?" on Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) News, stated [as transcribed by ProCon.org]:

"One of my main objections to doping is that it's dangerous. Doping can cause blood clots, hurt our immune system, and it can create strokes and infections. So it's quite dangerous. Secondly, I've treated a number of athletes who have involved with doping and anabolic steroid use, and I can tell you that clinically these people present just like addicts, and we don't need more addicts in sports we don't need more addicts in society. I think this [allowing doping in sports] would be a mistake. I think we would be opening the floodgates. Young people will model and imitate what they see people do. They'll get involved with this at an earlier and earlier stage in life. And then we're going to have some deaths, and some problems, and we're going to feel kind of bad about loosening the regulations.

The purity of sports, the beauty of sports is about athletes competing with a sound mind and a sound body. We don’t want the athlete with the best chemist, best pharmacist, or the best transfusionist to be the champion."

Sep. 23, 2007 - Jay P. Granat, PhD