Barry Bonds has come to symbolize America’s struggle with performance enhancing drugs. Now he has made it onto the pages of Nature. Normally the journal is a pillar of objectivity, but the latest issue contains a rather provocative editorial. The authors ask:
“If spectators are seeking to reset their body mass index through pharmacology, or taking pills that enhance their memory, is it really reasonable that athletes should make do with bodies that have not seen such benefits?”
The authors seem to envision a world in which athletes become more like Formula 1 cars, with a team of doctors serving as the pit crew. They argue that it’s better to be honest than encourage dangerous back-alley doping, where athletes must use additional drugs just to hide the effects of the first.
Unfortunately, the editorial portrays the increasing popularity of performance enhancing drugs as an inevitable trend that must be accepted. Though the line between therapy medicine and enhancement medicine is blurry, that shouldn’t stop us from aiming for the first instead of the second.
Although the authors imply that athletes are disenfranchised by current doping regulations, athletes would be even more disenfranchised if those regulations did not exist. For instance, they might be forced to take performance enhancers in order to keep up with the pack.
Malcolm Gladwell wrote a great article for the New Yorker on doping. One athlete reports, “The training motto at the pool was, ‘You eat the pills, or you die.’ It was forbidden to refuse.”