1. Bend it like Beckham! The ethics of genetically testing your children for athletic potential.
The recent boom of direct-to-consumer (DTC) genetic tests, aimed at measuring children’s athletic potential, is the latest wave in the “pre-professionalization” of children that has characterized, especially but not exclusively, the US in the last fifteen years or so.
In this paper I analys
e the use of DTC genetic tests, sometimes coupled with more traditional methods of ‘talent scouting’, to assess a child’s predisposition to athletic performance. I first discuss the scientific evidence at the basis of these tests, and the parental decision in terms of education, and of investing in the children’s future, taken on the basis of the results of the tests. I then discuss how these parental practices impact on the children’s right to an open future, and on their developing sense of autonomy. I also consider the meaning and role of sports in childhood, and conclude that the use of DTC genetic tests to measure children’s athletic potential should be seen as a ‘wake up’ call for other problematic parental attitudes aimed at scouting and developing children’s talent. the paper is currently under review for the Sport, Ethics and Philosophy Journal.
I am pursuing an on-going examination of the ethical-philosophical rationale underpinning attitudes towards doping and gene doping in international sports at the highest level, and translation of this into policy and procedure for doping detection. Growth in diversity of enhancement technologies in mainstream medicine and in competitive sport poses important challenges to health and social policy formulation. I am investigating whether some of the ethical assumptions of current policy are vulnerable to serious questioning, and proposes a move toward greater consultation in fashioning a better rationale and policy in the area. In my research I am also interested in comparing the ethics of gene transfer in clinical trials with a therapeutic context, with the ethics of gene transfer for enhancement purposes in elite sports. The paper, co-authored with professor Mike McNamee from Swansea University, has been published for the special issue on ‘Sports & Genomics’ (vol 8, no 1) of the Genomics, Society and Policy Journal.
3. New critique of Olympic ‘sex-testing’ policy for female athletes with hyper-androgenism on American Journal of Bioethics.
tine sex testing for female athletes, a ‘sex testing policy‘ was once again put in place. The change came in response to the case of Caster Semenya, the South African runner whose sex was first challenged by her competitors at the Berlin World Athletic Championship in 2009. I have been interested in Caster Semenya’s case since then,
when the at that time 18-yo South-African athlete became the center of a harsh contestation, and was subsequently banned by IAAF from competition for 11-months while investigations on her sex were being conducted. At that time I co-authored a brief report for the Journal of Medical Ethics with Paolo Maugeri, where we argued that the answer to the question on the eligibility of Caster to compete should not be expected to lie in the result of sex-testing, as such a decision is not to be informed only by science, but also by ethical and philosophical considerations on the meaning of athletic excellence, and of fairness in competition. In a new paper published on the American Journal of Bioethics, and co-authored with Katrina Karkazis from the Stanford Center of Biomedical Ethics et al, we tackle a broader question: i.e. we aim not only at systematically criticising the new policies released by IAAF on May 2011 on the eligibility of female athletes to compete in the female category, but we also point out the broader social implications of the concern about “overly masculine” women competing in sports. Also, these policies prompt us to reflect, by completely neglecting it, the questions of: Under what circumstances, if any, is it ethical to require individuals to undergo medical interventions in order to compete? What unintended consequences might these policies have for female athletes ? Ultimately, the debate started from Caster’s case demands us to reflect on the meaning and aims of sports, in other words, its ‘ethos’. The full AJOB paper is available here, and my podcast on this subject is freely available on King’s College website here.