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Thomas H. Murray, “Why We Play: Reflections on Genetics, Ethics and Sport”

Genetics and ethics meet when genetic variation intersects with social efforts to regulate fairness in sports.  This talk addresses two cases of genetic trouble on the “level playing field”.  First, there are genetic variants that appear to confer an advantage on athletes. The case of Eero Maentyranta, a Finnish cross-country skier and Olympic champion is often cited by critics of drug testing in sport as proof that fairness in sport is illusory. Maentyranta had a condition known as inherited polycythemia, which may have given him an advantage in endurance over his competitors. Recently, evidence has emerged that athletes homozygous for the R version of the allele for ACTN3 are overrepresented in sports that emphasize explosive power. Entrepreneurs quickly seized on these findings and now offer allele tests for children. The Maentyranta and ACTN3 stories illustrate the risks of relying on simple ideas about the connection between genotype and phenotype, and on simplistic accounts of fairness in sport.

Second, the case of Caster Semenya, a South African runner suspected by some competitors as possibly being a man competing as a woman, has important implications for fairness in sport in the face of human variation that includes intersex persons. The recent efforts of the international governing body for track and field to create a process for dealing with accusations of unfairness as a consequence of intersex provides a helpful model that attends both to fairness and to the well being and privacy of athletes.  These specific cases speak to broader fundamental questions of the meaning of sport in light of inherited human genetic variation.

Refreshments will be served. A reception in 1322 Rolfe Hall will follow the lecture.

Dr. Thomas H. Murray is President of The Hastings Center.  Dr. Murray was formerly the Director of the Center for Biomedical Ethics in the School of Medicine at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, where he was also the Susan E. Watson Professor of Bioethics.  He is a founding editor of the journal Medical Humanities Review, and is on the editorial boards of The Hastings Center Report; Human Gene Therapy; Politics and the Life Sciences; Cloning, Science, and Policy; Medscape General MedicineTeaching Ethics; Journal of Bioethical Inquiry and the Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics. He served as President of the Society for Health and Human Values and of the American Society for Bioethics and Humanities.

The Hastings Center is an independent, nonpartisan, and nonprofit bioethics research institute founded in 1969. The Center’s mission is to address fundamental ethical issues in the areas of health, medicine, and the environment as they affect individuals, communities, and societies.

Thursday, May 12, 2011
3:30 PM - 5:00 PM
Los Angeles, CA, 2125 Rolfe Hall

Contact

Ana Wevill
ana@socgen.ucla.edu
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