Why do we draw the line where we do?

We, as a society, have been providing assistance to our fellow humans for a long time. For those with poor vision, we have invented glasses for every level of eyesight. For those who cannot walk, we have invented wheelchairs, and institutionalized the Americans with Disabilities Act. For those with poor hearing, we have invented hearing aids. Yet even in the most developed nations there are disabilities we don’t, as a society, help in the same regard. Why is it we have drawn the line of what disabilities we give time, energy, and resources to where it is? Is it just a matter of convenience, limited resources, or something else?

This theme is very similar to something we see in modern sports. In the last century, athletes have developed new ways of training to compete at the next level. From weight training to altitude training to a multitude of supplements, athletes don’t train remotely the same as they used to. At the same time, almost all high-level athletic institutions and governing bodies around the world have implemented some form of anti-doping laws to prevent the use of certain specific performance enhancing drugs. Use of these drugs make someone a cheater, because it gives them an unfair advantage over other athletes around the world and across generations. But how did we decide what drugs ought to be banned, and why is the line drawn there?

For my experiments, I looked at different aspects of PEDs, from specific case uses to the morality of overall use, as well as perceptions around legal and illegal use. Some of the main questions that arise are not easy to answer: why have we drawn the line between what is acceptable and what is not in the process of sports training and performance where it is? Why do we allow people to train with weights, at altitude, and a variety of other factors that have developed over the last century (including a variety of legal supplements), yet we don’t allow a select few drugs? And what’s more, why do we view those who have used these drugs as so immoral, to the point of criminality?

There are a variety of ways to answer these questions, but none are particularly straightforward. In my research I have found many arguments against PEDs. For instance, some are based around the idea that currently banned PEDs provide athletes with an unfair advantage over their predecessors. These athletes then become rich and famous for these accomplishments, even though they used drugs that are not available to their cross-generational rivals to achieve them. Others reflect the idea that should use of any and all drugs be allowed in sports, success in sports would become determined not by the combination of hard work and natural ability that we desire it to be but by the limit athletes were willing to destroy their bodies with performance enhancing drugs. Yet even if everyone can agree that there should be a limit on PED use, the question remains—where exactly do we draw the line? And who among us gets to decide?

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