Bioethics News

Doping and Rio#2: game theory

Some argue for a ban on doping on the basis of an appeal to nature; such arguments typically meet with fierce criticism.

In an article published online first this week in the Journal of Medical Ethics, University of Munich theologian and bioethicist Christof Breitsameter presents a different argument– he draws on game theory and claims about the behaviour of rational agents. He writes:

“Ceteris paribus, athletes will always prefer a situation that presents no health risk to a situation in which they face a threat to their health. They will therefore consent to a doping ban on the condition that it is ensured that all parties are bound to this rule, so that anyone complying with the rules will not be afraid of losing the competition as a result. For even if we condoned self-harm, it could still be argued plausibly that the individual should not suffer more disadvantages than absolutely necessary for the sake of gaining an advantage over others.”

Breitsameter argues that even minor health risks would not be worth taking for a rational agent:

“Of course, it is possible to plead for a restricted approval of doping measures with acceptable risk. But even taking minor risks would not seem sensible under the condition that all participants without exception adhere to the same conditions when there is the option to renounce the (avoidable) risks.”

Game theory has been applied to the doping issue before, but with a very different conclusion. In 2008 article in the Scientific American, essayist Michael Shermer argued that it would be eminently rational for professional cyclists to dope.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.