Nancy M. P. King, Richard Robeson
December 21, 2007
Bioethics has paid little attention to the issues raised by health in athletic competition, with the single exception of the use of prohibited performance enhancements. However, in competitive athletics, the treatment and prevention of athletic injury and the development of training programs designed to maximize athletic achievement share many characteristics with medical innovation and clinical research, and should be understood to constitute enhancement research.Athletes should, in at least some circumstances, be viewed as vulnerable research subjects, akin to desperate patients. Competitive athletes are often encouraged to sacrifice long-term health benefits for short-term gains; cultural mythology about sports and high-stakes financial investments at the organizational level in team sports exercise great influence on individual athletes' range of choices. Technological advances in training, equipment, and injury treatment serve to raise the bar in competitive athletics, in turn increasing not only the risks of harm but the level of expectation with regard to performance, injury, and recovery. It is common for athletes to seek, and teams to offer, intensive and innovative training regimens from which data are gathered, thus transforming innovation into research.As technology continues to enhance the prospects for athletic enhancement, it is time for bioethics to take a closer look at the way competitive athletics highlights the troubling questions posed by enhancement research.