This paper is a valuation of whether human enhancements in the context of sports should be embraced or restricted by the judging eyes of the world. This critically examines the controversial case of the fastest man on no legs, Oscar Pistorius, in his challenge to join the Olympic games.
Whether we like it or not, we cannot stop the fact the world is fast approaching the era of superhuman technologies. People are now starting to rethink their identities, as various promises of extra human enhancements are arising – in polarizing directions of either making us super humans or Frankenstein’s monsters, where man and machine are barely distinguishable.
The polarizing views of liberals and conservatives on human enhancement dwell on reasons varying from morality to medicine. Lin and Allhoff (2006) discussed f our pillars of why extra human improvements are to be supported.
The first argument hooks on the observation that people cannot really draw a concrete line between healing and enhancing. The logic here is that if you cannot clearly differentiate the two, you cannot treat them as morally different.
Therefore, since there are no restrictions in therapy, as it is generally of help to people, then there should also be no restrictions on human enhancement. This refers to using the same medical devices or procedures to improve already healthy human bodies (Lin & Allhoff, 2006).
The second argument cites the ineffectiveness as well as externalities such as artificially high prices and increased safety risks. The obvious fear here is that a significant number of people have the tendency to act irresponsibly given such enhancements, and therefore need to be protected from themselves and from inevitably harming other people (Lin & Allhoff, 2006).
The third argument tells us that the right of an individual on choosing what to do with himself is ultimately part of his own freedom. The state should only be seen as a regulator in a man’s quest for self-improvement.
This links to the fourth argument telling us that people have been enhancing themselves even right from the start (Lin & Allhoff, 2006). This means that far from being unnatural, the drive to alter and improve on ourselves is a fundamental part of who we are as humans, because as excellent species, we have always tried to search for ways to “look better, feel better, be stronger, and think better.
Analyzing all four arguments, it seems to me that it is the pro-enhancement side does more of the work, when in fact, it is the anti-enhancement side that needs better push of its slogan. We are soon to embrace a world where robots do most of our jobs. And ultimately looking at it, the bottom part of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs will already be fulfilled.
This line of thinking will lead us to look beyond the physical, and divert to the more psychological satisfaction in life. What is living without a sense of achievement and happiness? When everyone is beautiful, brainy and strong, how will you stand out in a crowd? Enhancement, when everyone already has it, will no longer bring us happiness.
The slogan “enhancement will make me happier” cannot be true at all times. It seems hard to believe that we have the capacity to curb the excesses of enhancements. Bodybuilding is so predominant that we now have competitions for the enhanced and non-enhanced. We cannot avoid people’s fear that the playing field will no longer be fair, since an enhanced person will most likely beat a normal competitor.
This brings us to the case of Oscar Pistorius. Professional athletes are on the watch out for what we can also term as cyborg athletes. Let’s focus on Pistorius, being a double amputee sprinter who now uses Cheetah legs, and has the ultimate goal of competing in the Olympics. We cannot deny his abilities, as he has all the numbers to prove he has the right to compete. However, speed is not the only problem. What seem to be simple metal legs now appear to be a topic of such a big debate (Dvorsky, 2007).
The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) has given its point of view that Pistorius’ legs give him a decided advantage over other athletes who use their naturally endowed legs to compete. This makes Pistorius not eligible to compete at the 2008 Olympics should he qualify.
IAAF’s point stems from the fact that Pistorius’ legs have been dubbed “cheetahs”, not by accident, but by artificial means. Cheetah legs resemble blades more than feet, and allow him to take long gaits as he springs one step after the other. Each step is approximately three to four meters. Hence, it is never comparable to normal human running – it is a new form of locomotion altogether (Dvorsky, 2007).
This brings us to the realization that professional sports is really now being upset by cybernetic endowments. This also caused the federation to come up with a new rule that “the use of any technical device that incorporates springs, wheels, etcetera is forbidden”.
The reason behind is that these devices drastically alter the nature of the sporting event. Starting off from this rule, we can already foresee future rules which may ban genetic modifications, cybernetic implants and cognitive enhancements (Dvorsky, 2007).
The long-term effect of enhancements in sports, however, remains to be vague as of now. Should more complicated human improvements arise such as telepathic communication between hockey players and improved peripheral vision for basketball players, we can somehow predict that these will lead to new categories of sports altogether. However, the current phenomenon still muddles up normal athletes to enhanced athletes.
Let’s take for an example the case of Soejima beating Cheruiyot in the racing field, mainly because he propelled through his wheelchair, while Cheruiyot made it with his own feet. These two athletes are unquestionably competent, but they apparently should not compete in the same category. In order to achieve a sense of triumph, one should believe that he has competed fairly.
As the role of human enhancement expands, our admiration for achievement and victory slowly fades. Or we can also say that it is the admiration itself that shifts.
From the player, we now admire his pharmacist. From the beauty queen, we now admire her plastic surgeon. Because the more a person relies on drugs, semi-human devices and genetic fixes, the less his performance represents his achievement. Should bionic athlete perfectly hits every single swing he makes of his baseball bat, it only diminishes the real regard for his capacities and success.
Coming from this line of perspective, we now realize that our capacities are part of our individual and natural gifts. And to acknowledge the giftedness of life is to recognize that our talents and abilities are not wholly our own doing, nor even fully ours, despite the efforts we do to develop and hone them. It also brings us to the realization that not everything in the world is to any kind of use we may desire (Sandel, 2002).