February 26, 2024

Nature backs drugs in sport

The world’s leading science journal, Nature, has endorsed performance-enhancing drugs in sport. Its argument is based on the growing acceptance of drugs by ordinary people to help them cope with everyday life. "By the end of the century," says Nature’s editorial, "the unenhanced body or mind may well be vanishingly rare." To me sure, drugs are risky, but adults have to take responsibility for their own lives.

"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?" Nature asks. "The more the public comes to live with the mixed and risk-related benefits of enhancement, the more it will appreciate that allowing such changes need not rob sport of its drama, nor athletes of their need for skill, training, character and dedication."

The editorial sparked a couple of indignant letters. Pharmacologist Piero Dolara, of the University of Florence, responded that increased physical performance because of drugs is often associated with serious side effects. He also worries that it could lead to "wild drug experimentation". "To my knowledge," he writes, "the rule primum non nocere — first, do no harm — has not yet been abolished for the medical profession".