Should disabled athletes using adaptive technology be allowed to participate in all levels of sports?

TRANSHUMAN


The picture shown above provides a glimpse at our societies constant attempt to merge transhumanistic views and beliefs in the right to human diversity. This struggle is even more apparent when discussing the permissibility of assistive technology in sports. We should be aware of the fact that assistive technology in sports is increasingly making it harder to determine what is normal performance and must stay true to the point that people using such technology should participate in a separate category than others when it comes to sports.

Transhumanism is discussed by Samantha Brennan (2014) as a “cultural movement with the goal of transforming the human condition by making widely available technologies that greatly enhance human capacities.” I want to draw on this statement very closely and emphasize the word enhanced embedded within the sentence. The fact that transhumanism seeks to enhance the human body makes it incredibly difficult to determine what is normal for humans today, especially when it comes to using technology in sports. Some may argue that assistive technology in sports brings the athlete back up to normal performance levels and therefore they should participate in whatever level of sport they desire. However we must ask what is the normal level of performance and how do we know that this technology is not enhancing their performance past that of others? After all, assistive technology is designed under a transhumanistic view because technology is always progressing to better our lives even if it means making things such as sports easier for us.

Carwyn Jones and Cassie Wilson (2009) talk about an important case in sports, which is Oscar Pistorius’s disability of having prosthetic legs and the unfair advantages that they may confer to him above others. The authors bring up a solid argument about how his new bionic legs and their manufacturers or designers are primarily responsible for his athletic ability. Pistorius has little control over his athletic ability in regards to his prosthetics, and the fact that his technology is being modified and constantly monitored brings up several cases of unfairness to other competitors in sports. To back this up, Jones and Wilson (2009) discuss how biomechanical and physiological testing was done on Pistorius’s prosthetics and it was suggested that they increase energy efficiency up to 25% and that they provide a mechanical advantage over a healthy ankle joint of a two legged athlete over 30%. This alone tells us that technology is truly designed in favor of bettering the human athlete and gives us grounds not to permit the use of these among people without disabilities.

To build onto the previous idea that certain unfair advantages may occur from using technology in sports, I want to draw on the fact that having the availability of these technologies also makes it difficult to determine what is normal. Mark Honigsbaum (2013) explains in his paper “as technology blurs the distinction between illness and optimal health, it becomes difficult to distinguish between normal and abnormal.” He further discusses that enhancement from technology is now even more focused on the re-engineering of bodies and minds themselves. To relate this to sports we can no longer determine if these people who are using the technology are performing at their normal level, or if it is enhanced. Because we are stuck at this crossroad in our current society the best solution would be to give these people their own category when participating in sports. By doing so we separate these individuals from people without access to these technologies rather than mixing them together to avoid any unfair advantages in the sport.

Of course it is perfectly fine to say that people should have access to assistive technology if it aids them throughout their day-to-day lifestyle. I am not saying that people should not use the technology to their advantage and that they should not have access to it, but what I am saying is that it should not be used within the context of competitive sports. If it were to be used, then a separate category should be created to avoid any discrepancy in sports. By doing this it could be said that we are trying to change our environment to better adapt to people with disabilities by allowing them access to participate in sports without major ethical conflicts arising. We should embrace the fact that human diversity is a part of life and disability is a variation of this diversity. Just as we separate sports through rep or local teams based on ability we should also separate disabled people from others as the athletic ability of these two categories can range quite drastically.

Being disabled should not be seen as a burden that should be fixed or enhanced; rather it should be viewed as a variation. We cannot look at disability from a transhumanistic view and compensate for the disability by enhancing it beyond normal human functioning. If this were to happen then we would have to allow all people to use these technologies and this is not feasible as access to these technologies is typically denied to those who do not have a disability. Every ban on using other performance enhancing technologies such as drug use would have to be lifted as well because it would parallel with permissibility of disabled people’s performance enhancing prosthetics.

The use of adaptive or assistive technology by disabled people should not be allowed at every level of sports. It is great that we are enhancing technology to help these people with their every day lives, but because this focus of enhancement stems into sports, we should not permit the use of them among the average sport. Perhaps in the future where enhancements are the norm we should permit the use of these technologies in the context of sports. However, in today’s society where many ethical issues surround this issue in sports, it is more beneficial to create a separate class.

Here is a video that has some interesting insights relating to this topic!

 

References:

Bostrom, N., (2003). Transhumanist values. Review of Contemporary Philosophy, Volume 4. Retrieved from http://www.nickbostrom.com/ethics/values.html

Brennan, S. (2014). Disability and Transhumanism (power point presentation).

Honigsbaum, M. (2013). The future of robotics: in a transhuman world, the disabled will be the ones without prosthetic limbs. The Guardian. Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2013/jun/16/future-robotics-bionic-limbs-disabled

Image of transhumanism vs. diversity. Retrieved from “Transhumanism: Rise of the Techno Sapiens” by Wix.com, 2011, http://jneid2.wix.com/transhumanism#!overview

Jones, C., Wilson, C. (2009). Defining advantage and athletic performance: The case of Oscar Pistorius. European Journal of Sport Science, 9(2), 125-131. Retrieved from http://sciencepolicy.colorado.edu/students/envs_5110/jones2009.pdf

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