Another Olympiad, another doping debate. Recent advances in medical science have opened up new possibilities for athletes to improve their performance, but this simultaneously creates new ethical dilemmas. This is especially the case with genetics. Replacing defective genes offers great promise to people suffering from certain diseases; but, if administered to athletes, gene therapy may allow them to swim faster and jump farther. That would be cheating, wouldn’t it?
People who oppose doping in sports do so for two reasons: fairness and safety. But whether or not the question of fairness makes sense is debatable, in the case of genetics. For instance, some people have innate genetic mutations which give them exactly the same sort of advantage as gene therapy would provide. And the question “what is natural?” is as problematic as “what is fair?” – what is natural about electric muscle stimulation, or running in special shoes made of carbon fibre? So, those who want to prohibit doping have the responsibility to prove why it is particularly unjust.
To prove that doping is unfair, other people argue that it would help big, rich countries with better access to the technology. But that is already happening nowadays.
Therefore, the main concern should be: is it safe for the athletes? If “gene doping” proves to be dangerous, it could be banned. But even then, one should be careful before reaching a conclusion because many athletes seem willing to face the risks of long-term effects on their health as a result of their vocation. Sport has always been about sacrifice: why should athletes be denied the chance to overcome their limitations?