Resistance is Futile: Confronting the Ethics of the “Enhanced Human” Athlete

By Dirk Rodenburg.

Published by The Sport Collection

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Oscar Pistorius’s recent attempt, as a double amputee, to compete for a place on the South African able-bodied Olympic team and the controversy that accompanied it foregrounds a profound societal ambivalence to what can be called “human enhancement” technologies both within sport and more generally. Advanced human enhancement technologies such as “smart” prosthetics, targeted neuro-cognitive agents, nanotechnology and genetic engineering are forcing a fundamental re-visioning or re-imagining of the boundaries of the human being with profound ethical implications. This paper samples the ethical discourse within four enhancement disciplines – prosthetics, neuro-cognition, genomics and nanotechnology – and attempts to situate shared ethical concerns within the four principles of biomedical ethics to determine if they can serve as a pan-disciplinary ethical framework. The conclusion is that while these principles do offer a mechanism for applying shared ethical concerns to specific instances of human enhancement technology, they do little to address the broader cultural drivers of enhancement technology: the dominance of engineering as a shared metaphor and the tremendous power of commercial incentive. The result may be that attempts to situate enhancement technologies ethically may already be too little, too late.

Keywords: Ethics, Human Enhancement, Biomedical Ethics, Biomedical Technology, Biomedical Engineering, Athletics, Prosthetics

The International Journal of Sport and Society, Volume 1, Issue 1, pp.285-300. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 641.582KB).

Dirk Rodenburg

PhD Student, Faculty of Information, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Dirk Rodenburg received his BA in Psychology from Queen’s University and an MA in Adult Education from the University of British Columbia, where he proposed a model for autonomous tutoring systems within the health sciences. Dirk has over thirteen years of software development and business consulting experience, including the the commercialization of two innovative knowledge management software products, as well as a broad range of custom software applications within the biotechnology, financial, health care, knowledge management and collaboration sectors. A former high school and university athlete, Dirk has always been interested in the point of intersection between technology and human athletic endeavour. Recently, he has become increasingly interested in the role of real-time data collection and feedback in facilitating athletic performance. This reflects Dirk’s strong interest in the cognitive / interpretive side of human computer interaction and data interpretation, as well as computer-mediated sensory augmentation. Dirk currently pursuing a PhD in the Faculty of Information at the University of Toronto.