Ethics of a relaxed antidoping rule accompanied by harm-reduction measures

J Med Ethics. 2017 May;43(5):282-286. doi: 10.1136/medethics-2015-102659. Epub 2017 Feb 2.


Harm-reduction approaches are used to reduce the burden of risky human behaviour without necessarily aiming to stop the behaviour. We discuss what an introduction of harm reduction for doping in sports would mean in parallel with a relaxation of the antidoping rule. We analyse what is ethically at stake in the following five levels: (1) What would it mean for the athlete (the self)? (2) How would it impact other athletes (the other)? (3) How would it affect the phenomenon of sport as a game and its fair play basis (the play)? (4) What would be the consequences for the spectator and the role of sports in society (the display)? and (5) What would it mean for what some consider as essential to being human (humanity)? For each level, we present arguments for and against doping and then discuss what a harm-reduction approach, within a dynamic regime of a partially relaxed antidoping rule, could imply. We find that a harm-reduction approach is morally defensible and potentially provides a viable escape out of the impasse resulting from the impossibility of attaining the eradication of doping. The following question remains to be answered: Would a more relaxed position, when combined with harm-reduction measures, indeed have less negative consequences for society than today's all-out antidoping efforts that aim for abstinence? We provide an outline of an alternative policy, allowing a cautious step-wise change to answer this question and then discuss the ethical aspects of such a policy change.

Keywords: Applied and Professional Ethics; Autonomy; Coercion; Drugs and Drug Industry; Enhancement.

MeSH terms

  • Athletes* / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Doping in Sports / ethics*
  • Doping in Sports / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Harm Reduction / ethics*
  • Humans
  • Performance-Enhancing Substances / blood*
  • Policy Making
  • Sports* / ethics
  • Substance Abuse Detection / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Substance Abuse Detection / methods*


  • Performance-Enhancing Substances