The genetically engineered athlete, The Guardian (1999, Dec 15)


The genetically engineered athlete(1999, Dec 15) The Guardian, by M. Butcher [link]

This article begins by recognising gene doping as a misuse of genetic technology and paints the picture of a couple who are about to illegally modify their prospective child, to ensure that it is going to be a world-winning athlete. The article is loaded with allusions to Frankenstein, deviant behaviour and describes this future as horrific. Yet, it does very little to explain what it is that has been compromised by this 'abuse' of medical technology.

The assumption is that this kind of performance enhancement would necessarily (and obviously) be illegal. Indeed, it is assumed that gene doping is comparable to other kinds of doping rather than, say, comparable to more legal methods of performance modification.

It is possible to construct a diffferent picture of this genetically modified future. Imagine a couple who, with the help (and potentially, legal requirement) have discovered a genetic defect in their prospective child. With the aid of genetic technology it is possible to correct this dysfunction and even make the child more resilient to disease. An unintended consequence of this would be that the child will most likely be a more competent athlete, should (s)he decide to take such a career path.

These two different constructions of the way in which gene transfer technology might be used to create super-athletes are quite different. Very often, the kind of dystopian (and, often, criminal) connotations of this technology obscure the way in which it could be used for the benefit of human kind, which includes enhancing the capacities of athletes.