Performance-enhancing Drugs in Sport

June 24, 2015

Each year second year students on the Medical Biochemistry programme at the University of Leicester produce videos on bioethical topics as one of their assignments.

This video on Performance-enhancing drugs in sport was rated as the runner-up for the 2014-15 cohort. Although there are some mispronunciations and it would have been better shot landscape than portrait, it nevertheless raises some of the key ethical issues in an engaging manner, and is an excellent example of paper-based animation.


Rise of the Planet of the Apes – a bioethical feast

December 31, 2011

Rise of the Planet of the Apes, now available on DVD, was one of the blockbuster releases in the summer of 2011. A prequel to the classic series of films (5 cinema releases between 1968 and 1973, TV spin-off and Tim Burton’s 2001 remake of the main Planet of the Apes), the new movie tries to offer a plausible mechanisms for the evolution of apes into a dominant global force.

(Warning: contains spoilers!) The new film is a veritable gold-mine for discussion of ethical topics, it would make as excellent vehicle for an engaging “film night”. In terms of bioethical issues, the film touches on all of the following:

  • Research ethics – there are lots of examples where aspects of the conduct of research are raised (some of which are picked out specifically in the list below). The motivations for doing research are touched upon at several points in the film – these include financial gain, fame and a desire to do good, both for mankind in general and specifically for the benefit of a relative in need. GenSys boss Steven Jacobs (David Oyelowo) is the embodiment of profit as a driver for research whereas Will Rodman (James Franco) represents more noble aspirations. A discussion of the ethics of research funding could follow naturally. Read the rest of this entry »

Cognitive enhancement: less sleep = more done?

February 25, 2009

In Make me… stay awake, the final part of an engaging series of three documentaries (following Make me… smart and Make me… live forever), Michael Mosley investigates the effects of sleep deprivation and ways in which these symptoms may be alleviated. As he puts it in the introduction to the film, he wants to know if there are ways of “conquering… my need and my urge for sleep” (01:40).

Several sections of the programme brought bioethical themes into sharp focus – including the use of model organisms in research (17:53-20:47) and the use of drugs to stay awake longer (26:42- end).

Read the rest of this entry »

Performance-enhancing drugs – Sport’s Dirty Secrets

June 12, 2007

Far more frequently than most of us would like, the sports news features fresh allegations of foul play and cheating.  A two-part documentary Sport’s Dirty Secrets looked to bring together some of the most notorious cases in one timeline of shame.  As far as bioethics is concerned, interest focusses on the second episode (TRILT identifier: 006B9F19, first transmitted on Channel 4 at 23:05 on 29th May 2007).  In particular, there is helpful archive footage of both the BALCO scandal in athletics, and of the misuse of blood products in cycling, with a focus around the Festina team.

BALCO (or Bay Area Laboratory Cooperative) was the company run by Victor Conte that developed and supplied tetrahydrogestrinone (THG) an artificial steroid.  THG became popular with certain sprinters as it was synthetic and initially undetectable since, without a reference specimen to compare, the authorities had no way of showing it was there.  All of this changed in 2003 when an informant provided a syringe containing traces of THG.  As a result various athletes, including American sprinter Kelli White and Britain’s Dwain Chambers, were found guilty of taking the drug and banned from competition.

As participants in an endurance event, cyclist have tended to favour an alternative compound, erythropoietin (EPO).  EPO is a natural hormone involved in the regulation of red blood cells.  As the theory goes, the more red blood cells you’ve got, the more oxygen you can carry around the body and the more efficiently your muscles can work.  Traditionally, it has been hard to prove illegal use of EPO supplement since it is naturally found in the body.  Successful discovery of misuse has more normally involved catching athletes or their associates red-handed with paraphenalia used for doping.  Such was the case in 1998, when Willy Voet, the coach of the Festina cycling team, was found with substantial quantities of EPO during a routine customs search.

Either of these clips could be used to introduce discussion of the underlying science and/or ethics of using artificial enhancements in competitive sports [it is hoped that more background on this topic will shortly be the subject of one of our Bioethics Briefings].

Please note: as might be anticipated, given the original late night transmission, the documentary includes explicit detail of some of the other ways in which sportsmen have fallen from grace, and it is therefore not recommended to watch the whole programme with students, particularly a school-age group.