[Paleopsych] BH: Sports Enhancement's Biggest Fan

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Sports Enhancement's Biggest Fan

Andy Miah promotes genetic modification of athletes not only to improve
competition, but also to improve humanity

    By Simon Smith
    Betterhumans Staff
    4/4/2005 1:36 PM

    Baseball's drug scandal is so 20th century. While former slugger
    [8]Mark McGwire pleads the fifth over steroids, today's athletes plead
    with researchers for genetic tweaks. It's widely assumed they'll have
    them by the 2008 Olympics--[9]if not sooner.

    Anti-doping agencies have reacted predictably, with the World
    Anti-Doping Association (WADA) banning "gene doping" in 2003. But the
    advent of genetic enhancement has also provided a crowbar for prying
    open debate over enhancement-prohibition, genetic and otherwise.

    At the forefront of this debate is ethicist [10]Andy Miah, author of
    the book [11]Genetically Modified Athletes. Against the backdrop of
    baseball's steroid brouhaha, Miah recently landed in Toronto where he
    made the case to a cramped room in the University of Toronto's
    Athletic Centre.

    To Miah, there's far more than medals at stake. How we handle genetic
    enhancement in sports, he argues, will affect how we handle genetic
    enhancements in general. "The gene doping debate is about what kinds
    of humans count," he says. "Sports offer a way for enhancements to
    become embedded in society."

    Athletic hypocrisy

    At just over five feet with spiky black hair and goatee, the
    baby-faced Miah could easily be mistaken for a student at the
    Starbuck's where we met a day before his talk. (Confession: at about
    the same height and baby-facedness, the same could be said of me--and
    I can't even grow a goatee.)

    As a professor at the University of Paisley in Scotland, however, Miah
    teaches such courses as "Becoming Posthuman" and writes regularly on
    cyberculture, bioethics, sports and genetic enhancement.

    His writing has gained urgency and notoriety as genetic enhancement
    moves from science fiction to fact.

    Scientific journals now regularly report genetic advances for which it
    takes little imagination to see athletic application. Perhaps most
    famously, geneticist [12]Lee Sweeney at the University of Pennsylvania
    discovered that injecting the gene for a growth factor called IGF-1
    doubles muscle strength in rats. Since the discovery, Sweeney says
    he's been swamped by requests from athletes seeking to participate in
    human trials.

    And why shouldn't they? asks Miah. The idea of the "natural athlete,"
    he says, is a hypocrisy, as sport--from the latest greatest running
    shoes to stamina-boosting altitude chambers--is inherently

    Furthermore, he says, anti-doping actions only provide an illusion of
    fairness "Those athletes we pin gold medals on are the ones who avoid
    the drug tests," he says. "We can't test for everything." With genetic
    enhancement, testing will be even more difficult, as athletes will
    have their DNA altered to improve performance rather than use
    detectable drugs.

    Encouraging public acceptance

    This--the practical impossibility of enforcing gene doping bans--is
    just one strike against prohibition. Miah raises many more issues. For
    example: Would people born with genetic modifications be allowed to
    play sports? Should gene therapy be used to equalize genetic
    constitutions so that competition is based more on skill and training
    than the genetic lottery? Would gene therapies that help athletes
    hasten healing also be banned under blanket prohibition?

    Such questioning puts Miah is in good company. U of T Faculty of
    Physical Education and Health Dean Bruce Kidd, for example, agrees
    with Miah that the ethical foundation of anti-doping is in need of
    review. Miah says this hasn't happened in about 40 years. "I would say
    ever," says Kidd, although he supports anti-doping initiatives.

    Moreover, Kidd supports equality in sports. The question for people on
    both sides of the anti-doping debate is how best to achieve this.
    Miah argues that genetic enhancement is one way. He believes that
    genetic enhancement could generally make people more capable, and he
    worries that sporting bodies will exert too strong an influence over
    its future.

    Ultimately, he hopes that athletics can make genetic enhancement more
    acceptable to the public, while baseball's current predicament shows
    this hasn't happened with drugs.

    "Drug-using athletes are represented as monsters, mutants," says Miah.
    "To me this is about enhancing humanity."


    8. http://abcnews.go.com/Sports/wireStory?id=592366
    9. http://www.betterhumans.com/Features/Reports/report.aspx?articleID=2004-08-09-1
   10. http://www.andymiah.net/
   11. http://www.gmathletes.net/
   12. http://www.med.upenn.edu/physiol/fac/sweeney.shtml

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