Therapy vs. Enhancement in Real Life

When I am trying to give my brain a break I often peruse the pages of a magazine. This is a wonderful excursion into areas of interest that I rarely get to uncover. One such area is running. Much to my dismay, when trying to abandon deeper thoughts one afternoon, I was overwhelmed by the content of an article.

The article recounted some unfortunate events in 2011, namely: four masters athletes tested positive for performance enhancing drugs. (Masters athletes, for those of you who don’t know, are athletes over the age of 35 who typically compete in 5-year age group increments.) They were then disqualified from competition for 8 months to 2 years.

That’s what should have happened, right?

Well, here is where it gets a little hairy.

A number of masters athletes require PEDs to continue performing at the same competitive level. So, what are they to do? Throw in the towel. Quit. Give up on their hobby/pleasure/fun. It seems this is a perfect circumstance to acknowledge the ever-ambiguous line between therapy and enhancement. In the article the journalist asks a most poignant question: Is it ethical to give someone something they’re not making?

In most cases we would say a reserved yes.

But, what about this case? Are these athletes really the win at all costs type? Or, are they just athletes who are trying to compete? If they are not simply seeking a leg-up on other masters athletes and have a legitimate deficiency it seems a case could be made for allowing them to use PEDs.

Am I off base?


I guess I should read something else when I need a break.



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Steve Phillips

From what you have written it sounds like the performance enhancing drug they were using was testosterone. Testosterone is frequently prescribed inappropriately for men without true gonadal dysfunction for nonspecific symptoms. This puts those men at risk for the adverse effects of testosterone therapy without any proven benefit. Taking testosterone to improve athletic performance is not replacing a deficiency. It is a means of trying to get a competitive advantage that is unfair and unsafe at any age.