Legalise PEDs and we'll prosper, says ethicist

ONE of Australia's pre-eminent thinkers, Oxford University professor Julian Savulescu, has called for world sporting authorities to legalise performance-enhancing substances.

Savulescu, a world-renowned philosopher and bioethicist, has argued for a decade that prohibition doesn't work but instead promotes links to organised crime.

He believes the answer to doping is to ''shift the goalposts, not get rid of them''.

''The goal at the moment is to pick up anything that has a performance-enhancing effect, no matter how small the amount. That's obviously an unachievable task,'' Savulescu told Fairfax Media from England. ''You can't pick up a molecule of testosterone or a single molecule of growth hormone, yet that is what they're trying to do. Instead, the goalposts should be shifted to harm reduction, where you pick up unsafe amounts or unsafe practices.

''As soon as people hear 'drugs' they think heroin and people dead in the streets. But caffeine is an artificial [performance-enhancing] substance while testosterone and growth hormone are naturally produced by the body. The way forward is to look at that bandwidth more critically and see what things are dangerous, in what amounts and do we really want to ban something.

''At the moment, as soon as something is seen to be performance-enhancing it's on the banned list. It's a nonsense.''

While medical experts argue that the majority of performance-enhancing drugs are detrimental to health, Savulescu argues this is not usually the case if properly administered. The editor of the prestigious Journal of Medical Ethics pointed to the Tour de France in the past two decades as proof.

''People have died from cycling accidents from being hit by cars - and Lance Armstrong is as fit as a trout,'' he said. ''The only time cyclists have died is through recreational drug use and through unsafe blood practices like using dodgy blood that's not properly stored, or using somebody else's blood.

''Lance Armstrong passed 200 doping tests yet he has been on a cocktail of doping substances. He's taking them in amounts that were enhancing his performances without affecting his health.

''The only thing that has ruined cycling over the past 15 years is people, left right and centre, having their medals removed and then somebody else [is] implicated in cheating. We need more-enforceable laws.''

Savulescu argued that a relaxing of doping laws wouldn't turn off the viewing public, who would be able to see their sporting heroes perform at their optimum.

''Probably the most famous recent [Australian] sportsman (and possibly the most famous since Donald Bradman), Shane Warne, was banned from cricket for one year for taking a masking agent for anabolic steroids.

''Now, he had a shoulder injury. What was achieved by banning Shane Warne for a year? All that happened was his record was reduced and the spectacle of the sport was reduced. Who cares if he comes back from a shoulder injury a bit quicker?

''A lot of these performance enhancers are actually used to deal with the injuries that occur with the training necessary in modern competitive sport.''

Savulescu denied sport would become a battle between pharmacists and said a new set of protocols was required.

''You need to change your mindset and then you can find new solutions. We're like ostriches with our heads in the sand about this.

''Already there's a battle of access to technology. Australia won the fourth-most medals at the Sydney Olympics not because we're the fourth-most genetically elite race on earth.

''It was because we spent $20 million per athlete per medal … If you spend a lot of money, you win a lot of medals.

''The other thing is, drugs are cheap. It's the training facilities that are expensive. EPO costs $100 a month, which is why people can access them over the internet.

''What I'm saying isn't going to be accepted at the current time. But there will be another scandal and then another … Eventually soccer will be shown to be rife with doping and there will be a huge push from European authorities.

''At the moment we're like a blinkered horse on the way to the knackery. It's going to get there!

''We need to take off the blinkers and think a little more broadly about the issue.''

The story Legalise PEDs and we'll prosper, says ethicist first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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