Congress Passes First-Ever Legal Ban on Sports Gene Doping President Expected to Sign Bill Prohibiting Genetic Enhancement in Sport
Washington, DC – President Bush is soon expected to sign into law a bill that for the first time in the U.S. enacts a federal ban on the use of genetic engineering, colloquially called “gene doping,” in athletic competition. Gene doping involves manipulating the expression of genes and/or transferring desired genes (from humans or other animals or organisms) directly into an athlete’s cells in an attempt to enhance strength, increase endurance, accelerate post-training recovery, or create other enhanced traits.
In the closing days of the session, Congress passed HR 6344 (a reauthorization of the US Office of National Drug Control) with a section on the US Anti-Doping Agency that explicitly prohibits the use of gene doping and bans from athletic competition anyone who has been genetically modified for performance enhancement.
“The 109th Congress deserves credit for anticipating and taking decisive action to prevent a new scandal in sports and to protect the lives of young athletes,” said Dr. Brent Blackwelder, President of Friends of the Earth. During the Congressional hearings on the abuse of steroids in sports in March of 2005, Friends of the Earth asked Congress also to take action against a new and more ominous threat to sports—gene doping of athletes.
“At its best, athletics celebrates remarkable human achievements that result from hard work and dedication, not from hypodermics and DNA labs,” said Jaydee Hanson, Director for Human Genetics Policy for the InternationalCenter for Technology Assessment. “This ban represents an important milestone for human dignity in the fight against a new eugenics that ultimately intends to engineer all human life.”
Many observers believe that the next area of cheating in sports will come from gene doping. Articles in Scientific American (July 2004) and the New York Times Magazine (January 18, 2004) indicated that athletes were already trying to obtain gene therapy to enhance performance. The concern dates back at least to 1997, when a team led by the University of Pennsylvania’s Lee Sweeney found that removing a gene in mice that regulates muscle growth created mice that were twice as muscular as their siblings. Almost immediately Sweeney began receiving requests from athletes, coaches, and trainers interested in athletic uses of the research.
Concerns about gene doping in sports parallel a larger debate about our human future and a new drive to promote experimental genetic technologies, including cloning and genetic engineering, for so-called human “enhancement.” Neo-eugenic proponents of “transhumanism” have called for “designer babies” with genetic advances chosen by their parents. For example, UCLA Professor Gregory Stock has stated that “If we could make our baby brighter, or healthier, or more attractive, or a better athlete…why wouldn’t we?” and PrincetonUniversity neo-eugenicist Lee Silver told ESPN that eventually “tinkering with genes… (could) make a child have the athletic ability of something that’s not human, the running ability of a jaguar, for example.”
Advocates for public health, historians studying eugenics, environmentalists and others have long expressed concerns about the specter of gene doping and human genetic engineering. The technology is untested and many scientists warn that athletes experimenting with these techniques are risking serious health hazards, including death. Already medical trials of gene therapy techniques have been haunted by unexpected illnesses and death. Out of thousands of patients who have received gene therapy, only a few have survived the treatment and have had their diseases treated. If the therapy were to work with athletes, the entire meaning of athletic competition would be jeopardized and a very scary future would have been launched.
Friends of the Earth President Brent Blackwelder warns: “Unless a way is found to stop genetic engineering of athletes, amateur and professional sport competitions as we know them are doomed. Would you want your children to compete against someone who has been engineered to have gorilla-like strength and kangaroo leaping ability? The joys and human interest in comparisons with records of achievement over time will be rendered meaningless.”
With the upcoming 2008 Olympic Games in China, Friends of the Earth and ICTA believe that HR 6344 is an especially important step to take in placing the United States in the lead in seeking to preserve the meaningfulness of athletic competition worldwide.
Congressional Bill HR 6344 explicitly prohibits the use of gene doping and bans from athletic competition anyone who has been genetically modified for performance enhancement. The bill states that “The United States Anti-Doping Agency shall…ensure that athletes participating in amateur athletic activities recognized by the United States Olympic Committee are prevented from using performance-enhancing drugs, or performance-enhancing genetic modifications accomplished through gene-doping…(and) permanently include `gene doping’ among any list of prohibited substances adopted by the Agency.”
HR 6344 is online at
(scroll to section 701, authorizing the USADA)
Gregory Stock’s article, “Unnatural Birth,” is online at http://www.som.ucla.edu/pmts/stock.pdf
An audio clip of Lee Silver’s interview with ESPN can be found at http://espn.go.com/otl/athlete/intro.html
Brent Blackwelder’s essay on gene doping and athletics is online at:
Brent Blackwelder’s statement to the House Government Reform Committee on Steroids in Baseball is online at:
Dr. Brent Blackwelder, Friends of the Earth 202-222-0727
Jaydee Hanson, ICTA, 202-547-9359