Lecturer: Essay Example

Ethical Analysis of the Use of Performance Enhancing Drugs in Sports


Ethical Analysis of the Use of Performance Enhancing Drugs in Sports


Current anti-doping laws that govern competitive sporting are premised on the moral standing that use of Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDs) should be prohibited to safeguard health of athletes and to promote fair-play (O’Connor n.d.). The use of PEDs, particularly anabolic steroids have attracted debates on the rightness and wrongness of the act. Medically, it has been argued that use of PEDs have significant side effects. A general consensus however has been that use of such substances give athletes higher performance levels, hence giving them competitive advantage over their opponents. Hence, debates that they promote unfair competition have prevailed. The conceptual inquiry into whether use of PEDs is justified is based on human concepts such as pleasure, right, duty, pain, harm and promise — within the hypothetical points of view such as Rights, Kantian Deontology, Normative ethical relativism and Utilitarianism. These moral philosophies can systematise reasoning on the use of the drugs. Despite this, their perspectives on the use of performance enhancing drugs in sport differ significantly. This essay shows that the acts of using PEDs are inherently wrong.

Deontological moral philosophy

Deontological theory hypothesizes that certain actions or inactions are morally-obligated in spite of the outcome. At the core of this theory is the uncompromising urgency to act only in ways that are consistent with that principle (Lewis 2013). It further proposes that before an individual takes an action, he must take account of the system of rights and principles that people should always be treated with respect. Therefore to cheat, deceive or lie to other people implies disrespecting them. Therefore, using drugs that enhance performance would amount to cheating.

However, before a conclusion is reached in this respect, it is important to first determine the meaning of respect and whether respect often outflanks other alternative moral values. According to Karnieli-Miller et al. (2010), interpretation of respect should recount the positive attitudes towards human dignity. Karnieli-Miller et al. (2010) suggested that respect should also denote attention to the codes of conduct and respectful interaction. Since it has been submitted that using PEDs is cheating, a normative position taken by deontology theory is likely to consider cheating as disrespectful. Hence, the “categorical imperative” would look into “universalising the maxim” to cheat. To this end, using PEDs in sports cannot be universalised since playing the sports under the influence of PEDs cannot be considered as fair-play.

It is therefore submitted that since using PEDs is cheating, people who use them cannot be considered as winners since sports are governed by rules that they have violated.

To conclude, Deontological theory promotes the perspective that the acts of using PEDs are inherently wrong and those taking part in competitive sports have an obligation not to engage in the practice.


Another predominate strand of reasoning is the utilitarianism which features in a range of sizes and shapes, although it is based on maximisation of goodness or utility (Lewis 2013). In telling between what is good and bad, the theory proposes that the potential consequences are of the divergent courses of actions and are estimated after which one pursues the course of action with maximal good consequences. Concerning the controversial issues of using DEPs, it can be argued that the utilitarian perspective objects to the use of the substances (HEA 2008).

Utilitarianism proposes theory postulates that morality is an issue of non-moral good resulting from the moral conducts and rules. Hence, it should be argued that morality is a means to attain some end (Lewis 2013). For instance, utilitarianism can be applied to justify the use of DEPs if the acts lead to maximisation of performance in sports. For instance, the quality of anabolic-androgen steroids to reduce muscle damage and overstraining may justify their use in sports that require muscle endurance and power, such as wresting, weight-lifting, boxing and football (Cheatham et al. 2008). However, such an act is unmistakably wrong in spite of how effective they may be to a large number of users.

Additionally, since the theory also suggests that humans have a duty to treat themselves and others as objects of intrinsic value and not as means to certain ends, use of PEDs cannot be justified. Hence, if the athletes also have an obligation to keep themselves fit and health, then the consequences of the drugs to the athletes’ body should be taken into perspective. Lewis (2013) suggested that consequences should enable individuals to determine their duties and obligations and not making something their duty or obligation.

In which case, if the side effects of using the PEDs are to be taken into account, then it can be argued that the use of the substances to promote performance in sport is not justified (Hall 2004). This is since medically, the consequences and risks of the drugs are fatal to athletes’ health. For instance, studies have indicated that using anabolic-androgen steroids can cause severe acne, violence and rage, dependence on drugs, tumour and liver abnormalities and heart failures risks (Cheatham et al. 2008). To conclude, Utilitarian moral perspective argues that the acts of using PEDs are inherently wrong based on their consequences.

Natural rights moral theory

In general, Kantian Deontology, Normative ethical relativism, Rights, and Utilitarianism and Rawls’ theory of justice promote the perspective that the acts of using PEDs are inherently wrong.

Natural rights moral theory proposes basic human rights such as right to own property, right to life and right for liberty. They are suggested as moral rights that persist whether the government acknowledges or oversees them or not. Libertarianism is an example of natural rights theory, which maintains that right to life is a negative rather than a positive right. By negative it means that individuals have a right not to be killed by other individuals. By positive it means the right maintained by individuals, which require the society to provide the needs to stay alive. However, some natural rights theorists take a different perspective by proposing that humans have negative as well as positive natural rights.

According to the theory, a right for an individual to do X suggests a correlative duty on other individuals not to hamper the individual’s performance of X. To this end, the rights-based theories consist of the moral rights that people are believed to have inherently or to enjoy.

Hence, a right to have good health is an example of a positive natural right. Hence, since using PEDs has fatal side effects that degrade an athlete’s life, it is possible to argue that encouraging the athletes to use the PEDs would be interfering with their rights to life. Next, suggesting that an athlete has a natural right to use the steroids since it boosts his muscle endurance does not necessarily imply that it is morally permissible to use the substances. Rather, it suggests that others individuals do not have the right to interfere with his rights of taking the drugs. However, it does not imply that using the drugs is morally right, since promoting the use of PEDs is naturally immoral.

In conclusion therefore, the rights theory does not support the use of PEDs in sports.

Rawls’ theory of justice

The theory of justice suggests that justice is the predominant virtue of any social institution, along with appreciating the universal sense of justice, since the aspect of fairness is attained by rational human beings, through initial circumstances that are fair (Thomas & Banks 2013). Rawls’ theory of justice further suggests that the key principles for achieving fairness include liberty, where individuals have an equal right as others and equality, where socio-economic inequalities are organised to benefit individuals equally. The theory postulates that individuals should base fairness on the principles of liberty and equality. In respect to the use of performance enhancing drugs in sports, it is critical to argue that individuals who use them would be given unfair competitive advantage (Thomas & Banks 2013). Debates on equality in sports under the umbrella of justice and fairness have remained intrinsic to issues of using PEDs, which compares using forms of manipulation or cheating to ensure enhanced participation at the expense of the opponents.

Hence, it should be concluded that Rawl’s theory of justice argues against use of PEDs since they promote unfair competition.

Normative ethical relativism

Normative ethical relativism theory suggests that no universally-valid moral principles exist. Rather, the moral appropriateness of an action differs depending on the society. Hence, no supreme universal standards bind people (Richardson & Weithman 1999). The theory suggests various cultures have varying perspectives; hence it is impracticable to establish a single set of ethical principles for use globally, since not feasible principles exists that could be used to regulate all activities that all individuals in the world engage in (Anon 2008).

In respect to the use of PEDs in sports, it can be reflected that if the ethical relativism theory is to be taken into perspective, then it could be argued that ethical principles or perspectives on the use of the substance would depend on a society’s cultures (Anon 2008). In which case, each sports organisation or nation is obligated to formulate independent ethical principles. In which case, if the United States formulates anti-doping legislations to enforce moral principles, an attempt by Australia to apply similar principles would only be considered as assertion of power as well as a political move (IEP 2014).

However, it is also critical to observe that a negative implication of using moral relativism is the perception of “untenability” of objectivity. In which case, attempts to formulate an objective universally-valid and –binding moral principle become difficult despite the fact that it facilitates tolerance for understanding other cultures.

Although the athletes should be considered to be having reasoning power and they should apply their reasoning in using the PEDs to their advantage, stating that application of morality to using the PEDs is questionable. In fact, it can be criticised for its limited-angle estimation.

In sum, since use of PEDs is today condemned by many nations, then it should be argued that that the general moral standing is against using them.

The governance and practice of sport domestically and internationally

Controlling the use of PEDs is an ethical device that is instrumental in controlling unfairness in sports by condemning sports participants who fail to comply with the sporting anti-doping rules. A clear indication is that (PEDs) should be prohibited since it is immoral as it degrades the health of the athletes and promotes unfairness in competitive sports.

Internationally, the World Anti-doping Agency (WADA), which was founded in 1999, oversees the implementation of anti-doping policies in sports. The body has promoted the understanding that using PEDs is an unethical practice. Currently, over 600 sports organisations seek to comply with the World Anti-Doping Code. Examples of such organisations include International Olympic Committee (WADA 2014).

The anti-doping authority is premised on the moral ethics of ensuring fair sporting and welfare of the athletes. These perspectives are consistent with Australia’s anti-doping authority. In Australia, Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority (ASADA) was developed in 2006 to promote fair and pure sports performance. According to a 1989 past survey in Australia, it was reported that some 70 percent of Australians athletes who had taken part in international sports had used PEDs (O’Connor n.d.).

Hence, ASADA and WADA consider use of PEDs as unethical practice based on the fact that they promote unfair competition, inequality and expose athletes to health risks. In fact, it can be argued that if ASADA and WADA’s key purposes are to sustain the integrity of sports and fair sporting, then it is justified to promote the idea that sports should be clean and drug-free.

In deed the underlying rationale for starting the anti-doping authorities was that sports are inherently competitive and therefore should be fair and that PEDs cause health risks to the athletes, as well as, the general society. To this end, the degree to which these arguments can be substantiated is based on the moral theories.


In conclusion therefore, except for Normative ethical relativism, the remaining moral ethical theories — Deontological theory, Utilitarianism, Natural rights moral theory, Rawls’ theory of justice –propose either directly or indirectly that the acts of using PEDs are inherently wrong. In any case, none of the theories supports the use of drugs. This gives international anti-doping agencies such as WADA grounds on which to premise their role in curtailing use of PEDs in competitive sports. Locally, ASADA’s role in promoting “pure” sporting is also justified based on the theories. Deontological theory promotes the perspective that using PEDs are inherently wrong. Utilitarian argues that the acts of using PEDs are inherently wrong based on their consequences. Rawl’s theory of justice also argues against use of PEDs as they promote unfair competition. As a consequence, WADA and ASADA consider use of PEDs as unethical practices based on the argument that PEDs promote unfair competition, inequality and expose athletes to health risks based on the theories.


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