Lecture’s Name: Essay Example

Ethical Perspective on using performance enhancers drugs in sports

Lecture’s Name:

1.0 Introduction

Sporting profession in recent years has experienced utilisation of performance enhancing drugs. The present discourse that have been advanced is that utilisation of such drugs is unethical or in certain circumstances criminal (Yesalis & Bahrke, 2002). However, with a critical perspective, the utilisation of such drugs can be justified or castigated owing to the fact that theoretical propositions underpinning ethics significantly differ in their arguments in regard to teleology/ consequentialism approaches and deontological/ non-consequentialism approaches (Farrell, Fraedrich & Farrell, 2011, p.162). Utilising the case example of doping in sports, the aim of the is to conduct an ethical analysis using various ethical theories to explain and discuss what is wrong or right with using performance enhancing drugs.

2.0 Ethical Analysis of Doping

2.1 Utilitarianism

Utilitarianism conceptualises a bad or good action premised on how the end results impacts on the larger group. As such, it aims to maximise good for the largest proportion of the concerned entities by not focusing on the process or intention but by placing emphasis on the outcome. Hence, if an outcome is desirable to the greatest number irrespective of the process or means used to attain it, the whole encounter is right (Adams & Maine, 1998, p.15). Utilitarianism can either be seen as rule utilitarianism or act utilitarianism. Act utilitarianism is restricted to consequences of one’s behaviour in every instances that they engage in that particular action while rule utilitarianism is concerned with impact of limiting everyone to adhere to a given rule (Pojman, 1995, p.169).

In regard to the above realisation, if considered within the context of act utilitarianism especially if an individual is not caught, it is right to engage in performance enhancing drug as it contributes to the greatest pleasure of supporters that their team or preferred athlete is a victor who brings medals. Indeed, Leonard & Zeckhauser (2001) opines that when the cost outweighs benefits it is prudent in goiven circumnstances to undertake such encounters. Nevertheless, still under act utilitarianism, if one is caught engaging in doping activities then the action transforms to be a wrong one as it does not confer pleasure to spectators and defeats the aspirations of most sporting activities such as fair play, honesty, excellence in performance, courage, fun & joy (Sport, 2007, p.512).

However, considered under rule utilitarianism – whether caught or not, utilising performance enhancing drugs is not right. The rationale for this argument is anchored on the fact that it does not address the good of the largest number, but tend to be an exhibition of egoism where the ultimate focus is to fulfil personal ambitions as opposed to being a victor that serves largest number pleasure or aspirations of stakeholders of sports which include fair competition devoid of undue advantage. For example it is not pleasurable to a country if her national team or athlete is banned from international competition as a result of doping or it is not pleasurable for a other competitors to lose to undeserving competitor. Thus, this defeat the expectations under anti doping rule that dictates that all involved entities such as players should have respect for rules & law and respect for self and other participants (Sport, 2007, p.513).

2.2 Kantian Deontology

Kantian ethics is all about doing what is right with right intentions. Kantian ethics is rooted on good will where rationality constitutes the cornerstone of all actions instead of utility or other contradictions or good will such s bad faith and deceit. In this regard, happiness is not considered as the highest good, but ability of individuals to act as rational agents so as to ensure freedom. In this perspective, freedom is not about engaging what one wants, but about self determination. As such Kantian demands that individuals’ moral action is informed not by expected outcomes, but by the self imposed duty to act in good will. Thus, the whole debate revolves around intentions as opposed to utilitarianism that is rooted on consequences and outcomes (Adams & Maine, 1998, p.18).

Within the theoretical description of Kantian deontology, use of performance enhancing drugs by any given athlete is wrong and immoral. The rationale for advancing such answer is premised on the fact that such action contravenes Kantian moral principles that allows for self determination with the belief that adults have capacity to be morally responsible and in event of contravention they are criminally liable (MacKenzie, 2005, p.11). For instance, Kantian ethics is anchored on the intentions and not the consequences and hence one is expected to act in good will. On the other hand, this is the contrary. When one utilises performance enhancing drugs they are not acting in good will as their ultimate concern is deceit premised on bad faith so as to gain undue advantage over other competitors. As such, doping contravenes universalisability principle of Kantian ethics. The self imposed duty of reason demands that one tells the truth yet this is not the case as use on performance enhancing drugs constitutes total deception and inability to adhere to fair play, honesty, performance in excellence, courage and respect for other participants (Sport, 2007, p.513).

2.3 Rawls Theory of Justice

Rawls principle of justice is one of distributive justice theory premised on social contract. The greatest underpinning in this work is the concept known as ‘veil of ignorance’. Within ‘veil of ignorance’, it is assumed that every individual is rational and they value their own good. Additionally, it assumes that individuals are objective and hence they are not able to comprehend anything in regard to themselves and hence leading to the realisation that people are likely to pursue principles of justice impartially. As such, all individuals are viewed as rational, self centred & at any given time would propagate self interest and act similarly in the same circumstance and thus, reaching agreement is possible. Rawls argument gave birth to two principles. The first is the equal liberty where every individual of the society is allowed the highest level of liberty that is similar to liberty of others. Secondly, inequalities in social primary goods are permissible only in circumstances where they contribute to the betterment of everyone (Prasad, 2008, p.1168).

From the above realisation, utilisation of performance enhancing drug is not right. According to argument by Cohen (2010, p.566-567), this proposition is evidently true if taken from the principle that argues that no difference exist between individuals that should guarantee inequality in amongst stakeholders. As social contract concept, every entity as a moral agent should adhere to moral expectations. Taken from this perspective, a person who utilises drugs to enhance performance propagates inequality as he or she gains undue advantage over the others yet under the said principle everyone should be subjected to equal share. As indicated by Sport (2007, p.513), such inequality occurs at the expense of the pure competitors who would have won fairly without the other competing party engaging in performance enhancing drugs and to loosing country/ organisation/ club who would have fronted a fair challenge in event that there was a fair play.

2.4 Rights

Right is perceived as an entitlement that one is guaranteed to as long as the action does not breach law or so long as the action is valid to the extent that it does not interfere with other peoples’ rights (Van Hooft, Gillam & Byrnes, 1995, p.217). The concept of right arises out of the fact that another entity owes another party duty of care. For instance, one should be treated equally and not be subjected to discriminatory treatment. Broadly, there are two categories of rights. The first is the positive rights that allow one to stake a claim on being provided for in given circumstances such as right to health or education. However, these positive rights have limits to the extent that they do not contribute to inequality or infringe other people’s rights. On the other hand, negative rights is premised on the rationale that one is free to engage in what pleases their desire without restriction, but this is limited by equal rights and thus, the claim is valid so long as it does not breach the rights of others (Van Hooft, Gillam & Byrnes, 1995, p.221-222).

Taken from this regard, the question that emerges is does engaging in doping activity right or wrong. The argument that emerges is that engaging in performance enhancing drugs is wrong. The rationale is that while everyone is free to engage in any activity that they deem suitable to their claims under negative rights, but this is not absolute as it is made obsolete by the fact that any claims of right is valid to the extent that it does not interfere with equal rights other parties (Van Hooft, Gillam & Byrnes, 1995, p.223). However, under any competitive sports such engagement contravenes rights of participants, spectator and stakeholders at large. For, instance, while one is free to engage in performance enhancing drugs, it is equally invalid right is taken to competition platform as it contravenes sport rules, fair play, and respect to other competitors, fun and joy.

2.5The challenge of ethical relativism

Challenge of ethical relativism is complicated by pluralistic universalism and absolutism. The concept of relativism appreciates that falsity or truth of an action is a function of the cultural context one operates in as different cultures have varying moral values. As such within this context, there is universal truth (Pojman, 1995, p.30). However, such belief have been counteracted anchored on the belief under moral pluralistic universalism that there are universal cross cutting moral human values that are applicable irrespective of the cultural difference that one operates in. for instance, right to life, freedom, honesty and fairness. This is especially true when two cultures are interacting (Donaldson, 1996, p.477-478; De George, 1993, p.21).

The above argument within the context of utilising performance enhancing drugs can elicit a dualistic response. If approached under ethical relativism, the engaging in performance enhancing drugs can be both right and wrong. In this context, if one is operating in a cultural context that that utilisation of such drugs is acceptable then the action is right while if operating in a cultural context that abhors cheating then the action is wrong. On the other hand if extended to the context of universalism, according to the argument fronted by De George (1993, p.20), the action is wrong since under cultural universalism one of the universal values is honesty, integrity and truth telling yet engaging in doping exercise negates the expectation of integrity and honesty. According to Sport (2007, p.513), the universal sports culture include respect for self & other competitors, respect to law & rules which include not to dope; fair play which include being in natural status as opposed to drug enhancing performance.


The aim of the paper was to establish if it is right to use performance enhancing drugs within the context of moral philosophies such as utilitarianism, Kantian deontology & Rawls principle of justice, rights and challenges of cultural relativism. In most cases, the realisation is that it is wrong to engage in performance enhancing drugs. The rationale is premised on the fact that under utilitarianism, if an action does not address the interest of the largest number then it is wrong yet doping only addresses the egoistic interest of the user (s) and not the interest of other stakeholders. The same is outright wrong that under Kantian deontology that requires moral reasoning and not basing actions on consequences, but on intention s which in this context is wrong. Within the context of challenges of ethical relativism, the action can be right or wrong.


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