Dr Ross Cloney reviews my book “From bench to bedside, to track & field” for Bionews

By Dr Ross Cloney

Appeared in BioNews 799 on April 27, 2015

You can read the full review here:


My commentary on Dutee Chand’s case: When is it fair to be a woman in athletic competition?

The hearing of Dutee Chand is currently underway at the Court for Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne.

Dutee Chand

Dutee Chand

Dutee Chand (19 yo) was disqualified just days before the beginning of the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in July 2014 after a medical test determined that her androgen level was above the “normal” limit set by IAAF and IOC policies of 10 nmol/lit. According to the IAAF Regulations (May 2011, link) if Chand is able to reduce her androgen levels to fall within the normal testing range, she will be allowed to resume international competition. She refused to do so and appeal.

The assumption of the IAAF regulations is that hyperandrogenism/testosterone confers an unfair advantage and disrupts the level playing field.

I provided some commentary on Dutee Chand’s appeal for BBC World News Hour on Monday, March 23rd. You can listen to the clip here.

I also participated in a debate on BBC World Service Have Your Say last night. The podcast is available here.

Here’s in brief what I think about the case:

Even if it were case proven (and it is not) that higher levels of androgens provided an advantage, that would not imply that it were unfair. In other words, we do not care whether testosterone provides an advantage or not, we care whether that advantage is unfair. And to demonstrate that it is not we reflect on bigger questions, such as the meaning of athletic excellence, and gender and performing feminity in sport.

We think that exceptional biological and genetic variations are considered part of what the elite athlete is, and of what makes sports completion valuable and admirable: achieving excellence through the combination of talent – the natural endowment of the athlete- and dedication – the efforts in training and preparation that the athlete put forth to maximize what her talent offers. That is we, together with the governing bodies of athletics, do not consider unfair many other genetic variation many other biological and genetic variations which confer an advantage in sport. For example, endurance athletes have mitochondrial vairations that increase aerobic capacity and endurance. More genetic variations and polymorphisms in the genetic basis of sport performance are unravelled as we speak. Why aren’t such genetic and biological variations consider unfair? Because it is part of what we think elite athletes are. The level playing field in competition, which is one of the arguments that is going to be used to upheld the IAAF regulations in the courtoom, does not exist. It is a myth.

 Why is hyperandrogenism singled out? It is only one of these variations. I argue that it is singled out as it challenges deeply entrenched social beliefs of women in sport in a way that other variations do not.

I argue that the IAAF/IOC are now faced with a disruptive dilemma: Either ban from competition all athletes who derive an advantage from biological variations, or let everybody who is “out of the ordinary,” compete, athletes with hyperandrogenism included.

If they do not do so and uphold their regulations, they will stand to create many levels of unfairness while upholding the very opposite fairness ideal.

My interview for BBC Worlds News on sterilisation and eugenics

On February 27, 2015 I was interviewed by David Eades of the BBC World News  to comment on the BBC story on the eugenics victims in the US who had been forcibly sterilised during the state of Virginia’s eugenics programme. More than 8,000 Virginians were operated on between the 1920s and 1970s.

IMG-20150301-WA0033When asked by David whether we should be worried about eugenics programmes today, I argued that while we often hear about the ‘resurgence’ of eugenics in the context of the selection of children’s traits with genetic technologies, we should be careful when we draw this comparison.

The negative connotation we have of eugenics today is something that we have acquired relatively recently, in the aftermath of WWII. When the term eugenics was invented by Francis Galton in 1883, it did not have a negative connotation; quite on the contrary, it was considered a duty of society to pursue the selection of “good genes”, both with negative measures (such as sterilisation laws) and with positive measures (such as support for young families).

We now think, in the Western world at least, that people have a right to ‘reproductive freedom‘ which includes when and with whom to reproduce, but  this was not the case with classical eugenics when reproductive decisions were considered a legitimate sphere of intervention of the state.

I have also argued that the use of eugenics as a word mobilises anxieties in the public, and can mask real ethical issues that we have with selection, which are different from those of the past.

You can watch the full clip of the BBC interview here. (about 4 minutes).

If you are interested in reading more about my work on eugenics, you can read her latest book, titled “From bench, to bedside, to track & field: the context of enhancement and its ethical relevance” published by the UC Medical Humanities Press in 2014. You can also listen to my recent seminar (February 4, 2015) at King’s College London on this topic here. [about 1 hour]