Over the past years, there have been many technological advances in the field of medicine. Some of them have proven to be extremely beneficial in creating a healthier society while others have been used for personal gain. The following essay will outline one of these advances, which is the medical phenomena of blood doping, also known as blood boosting and blood packing.
There has been much controversy surrounding the use of blood doping ever since it has gained mainstream publicity. From a medical and an ethical perspective, many consider the use it wrong and immoral. In the following paragraph, we will briefly introduce this concept by describing the process and how it can be utilized. Later on, we will discuss the advantages and disadvantages of employing blood doping.
Blood doping is a medical process used to increase the concentration of red blood cells in one’s body to a higher, supraphysiologic level (Shah 167). Athletes who would like to give themselves an advantage competing physically most commonly use it (Foschi, 458). This procedure can be achieved in two different ways. One can ask to have his or her own blood injected or can request the use of the blood of a matching donor. These processes are respectively called autologous and monologous transfusions. The red blood cells are usually removed over an extended period of time. The withdrawn blood is then refrigerated for preservation and finally re-injected 1-7 days before competition (Shah 167).
Advantages of Blood Doping
Although there are many who oppose the enhancing technique of blood doping, studies indicate that there are clear advantages and benefits that it brings. These advantages are especially attractive for endurance athletes such as cross country skiers, marathoners, and cyclists (Shah 168). With a minimum infusion of 900ml, one can expect an increase in maximal aerobic capacity. The process also improves endurance times and provides a thermoregulatory advantage for those who exercise in the heat (Shah 167). For a professional athlete this can lead to more success in individual and team play which ultimately leads to more respect from peers and admirers, higher salary, and larger endorsement contracts. Although blood doping is illegal just as many other performance-enhancing techniques are, it is not nearly as detectable, which is an obvious benefit. However, even with all these gains, there is a lot of risk and negative connotation associated with blood doping.
Disadvantages of Blood Doping
The disadvantages of blood doping can be categorized into medical, ethical, and economic disadvantages. In the context of professional competition and ethics, it is morally wrong to award an athlete who has been using this technology instead of an athlete who has been honestly preparing for the given event, as this violates the rules of sport in general (Aschenden 1). Athletes, and to a lesser extent physicians, are often silently encouraged into using blood doping by corporations who represent the athletes and use their image for marketing. This can endanger the livelihood of the physician who performed the transfusion as well as the athlete. As attorney at law, Leigh Schlossinger reports in The Colorado Lawyer “Examples of reasonable termination causes for the sponsor include . . . drug use or blood doping” (4).
More importantly, blood doping can endanger the life of the athlete (Aschenden 1). There are many known adverse effects present in the use of blood doping. The general medical risks include the possibility of hypertension, conjestive heart failure, thombrosis, stroke and acute coronary syndrome. Other risks are the development of problems such as phlebitis, hyperviscosity syndrome, and intravascular clotting (Beckham). Although autologous transfusions are considered less dangerous, they are still accompanied by risks such as labeling errors and infection. As for homologous transfusions, the risks include the risk of blood born diseases such as hepatitis B and C, AIDS, CMV, and malaria. Homologous transfusions also bear the risk of damaging transfusion reactions (Shah 168).
For an athlete who has to make a decision regarding the use of blood doping, it is important to consider the aforementioned negative and positive consequences. Now and in the nearest future, the dilemma of blood doping and the controversy surrounding it is omnipresent. Although there are clear advantages, many of the risks mentioned are detriments to one’s health. Therefore, until any improvements that can minimize medical risks are made, the risks associated with blood doping seem to prevail over the benefits.
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