Professionalism/Thomas H. Murray

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Thomas H. Murray is a bioethicist who has done research about a variety of topics, including ethics in science, care of children, occupational health, genetics, and ethics in sports. He served as the president of the Hastings Center from 1999-2012. Throughout his career, which currently spans over 40 years, he has produced a large number of published works and currently works as a visiting professor at the National University of Singapore.[1] This page focuses on his work on professional ethics in sports, which concerns doping and other biomedical technologies.

Background[edit | edit source]

Thomas H. Murray earned a Ph.D. in Social Psychology from Princeton University in 1976. His experiences conducting psychological studies during this time inspired him to pursue ethics, as he would later recount in an interview with Kinesophy:[2]

I was involved in research that deceived undergraduate students into thinking they might be witnessing an emergency, and then recorded whether and how swiftly they sought help. Many of the research subjects were severely rattled by the experience... I came to believe that whatever knowledge we might gain from the study wasn’t enough to justify what we made them go through. I began asking questions about the ethics of such research. Ultimately that led to post-doc fellowships at Yale to study ethics, and then to The Hastings Center.

Murray first joined the Hastings Center in 1979, where he worked on the ethics of non-therapeutic drug use. This was the beginning of his research on performance-enhancing drugs in sports.[2] In 1987, he came to the Case Western Reserve University where he because a Susan E. Watson Professor of Bioethics. In 1999, he became the President and CEO of The Hastings Center, a leading organization in the field of bioethics.[3] He stepped down from his position in 2012,[4] and is now a visiting professor at the National University of Singapore.[1]

Dr. Murray is the author or editor of more than 250 publications.[5] These publications cover a wide range of topics, including occupational health, genetics, ethics in sports, parenthood, the healthcare industry and scientific research, and more. His wide range and deep analysis of many topics has given him a reputation as a pioneer in the field of bioethics throughout the course of his career.[4] Many books are included in his publications. His first book about ethics in sports was Performance-Enhancing Technologies in Sports: Ethical, Conceptual, and Scientific Issues, published in 2009. His second book about ethics in sports is Good Sport: Why Our Games Matter – and How Doping Undermines Them. It was published in 2018 and is his most recent book.

Murray also served on the National Bioethics Advisory Commission (NBAC). The NBAC was a U.S. governmental organization which existed from 1995-2001 to advise the President on bioethics issues.[6] In particular, the NBAC investigated the ethics of human cloning via transfer of genetic material from an existing human being to an egg. The NBAC's findings would later be referenced by regulators and researchers around the world.[7]

Performance Enhancing Drugs in Sports[edit | edit source]

Serious athletes know that fierce competition can create an environment where performance enhancing drugs, are common. These enhancements, such as anabolic steroids and human growth hormones, increase athlete's muscle mass and strength. [8] Athletes alter their bodies by dieting, exercising, and undergoing cosmetic surgeries to hasten recovery from injuries. And while some athletes may decide to use performance enhancing drugs, it may be a grey area whether this is acceptable behavior or cheating. Murray has strongly opposed doping and illustrates why performance enhancing drugs are unethical in sports.

In the 2012 publication, Ethical Consideration in Anti-doping Analysis, Murray contrasts the positive and normative scenarios of the competitive sports environment. The positive scenario is that some athletes will dope, and everyone else must either accept the disadvantage, drop out, or give in and take whatever drug they believe their competitor is using. The normative scenario, or what he argues should be, is an environment where drug-free athletes can participate in sports with confidence that their competition is doing the same. [9]

In 2018, Murray published what he called, “A decades-long journey to understand the ethics of performance-enhancing drug use in sports,” in his book Good Sport. Murray explains how sport has a mixed relationship with the technologies that improve performance. For example, golf banned balls that fly straighter and swim banned certain suits that increased speed. But the core value that bind together all sports, he insists, is the respect for natural talent and the dedication required to perfect it. Doping distorts the connection between natural talents, the dedication to perfect those talents, and success in sports. To Murray, this is good enough reason to ban doping all together. [10]

In an interview, Dr. Murray explored further ethical dilemmas with sports doping, like how we distinguish acceptable enhancements from violations and the root cause of why athletes decide to dope. According to Murray, the ethical decision rests upon the meaning of the activity. A surgeon, for example, is encouraged to take a new, low-risk drug that can steady their hand because his hob is to heal patients, not display virtuosity. Sports is completely different, he explains, because sport is the virtuous perfection of natural talents. After years of working closely with and studying athletes, Murray said the main reason they decide to dope is pressure from their peers, coaches, and officials. Murray further expressed the need to hold these people accountable, for they are the ones that are encouraging and enabling the athlete to dope. A recent development on the ethical boundaries of sports that most interested Murray was the movement to finally go after what he calls the "doping ecosystem" instead of laying all the blame on the athletes themselves. [11]

Murray's Ethical Prospective[edit | edit source]

Murray’s work, specifically in sports ethics, offers insight into professional ethics in general. In 2015, a joint consensus statement released by Murray and other experts and convened by Safe Kids Worldwide, the Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation, and the Andrews Institute for Orthopedics and Sports Medicine discussed the short- and long-term effects of concussions of youth sports-related concussions.[12] Concussions tend to damage the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain, which are also the last areas of the brain to develop. Damage to these areas increases the risk of slower brain function. In 2013, a 5-year longitudinal study analyzing brain function in Mixed-Martial Arts (MMA) fighters and boxers identified a positive correlation between consistent blows to the head and years fighting with standardized brain volume, processing time, and psychomotor speed skills.[13]

This provides insight into the ethics of promoting contact sports such as ice hockey and American football, sports which are rife with concussions, at young ages. The brain of a minor is not fully developed, so the athlete may not fully understand the inherent risks and consequences of the issue. Murray states in an interview: “An isolated, informed adult weighing the advantages and disadvantages and choosing to take a risk can argue plausibly that her choice should be respected.”[2] However, in this case, the person is not an isolated, informed adult. The person is an unisolated (maybe influenced and pressured by family or socio-economic circumstances) minor.

Murray also discusses the professional ethics of sports doping. There is still much unknown about the mental effects of doping. Advocates of sports doping center their argument on personal liberty.[14] However, Murray refutes this claim based on the potential impact on one’s reasoning, which, in turn, restricts liberty. Murray uses Aristotle’s term eudaimonia, or the good life, which aims to perfect a person’s natural physical and intellectual attributes.[15] Murray’s “…Aristotelian objection is that we should not use unnatural means – drugs – to perfect natural excellences – athletic ability.”[16]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. a b Murray, T. (2020). Thomas H Murray. Researchgate.
  2. a b c Hickey, G. (2020, February 01) Performance Enhancing Drugs and the Value of Sports with Dr. Thomas Murray. Kinesophy.
  3. Murray, T. (2007). Summary of Professional Activities. The Hastings Center.
  4. a b The Hastings Center. (2011, March 03). PRESS RELEASE: 03.24.11 Thomas H. Murray to Step Down as President of The Hastings Center. The Hastings Center.
  5. The Hastings Center. (2021). Posts by Author - Thomas Murray. The Hastings Center.
  6. Murray, T. (2001, March 28). Statement of Thomas H. Murray, Ph.D. Commissioner, National Bioethics Advisory Commission.
  7. Murray, T. (2017, May 22). Ripples: What to Expect When You Serve on a Bioethics Commission. Goals and Practice of Public Bioethics: Reflections on National Bioethics Commissions. (Vol. 47, no.3, pp.S54‐S56). Hastings Center Report.
  8. BBC. (2014). Ethics - Sporting Ethics: Body Modification.
  9. Murray, T. 2012. Ethical considerations in anti-doping analysis.
  10. Murray, T. 2018. Good sport.
  11. Murray, T. (2021, January 14). Performance enhancing drugs and the value of sports with Dr. Thomas Murray.
  12. Carmen, A et. al (2015) Mind the gaps—advancing research into short-term and long-term neuropsychological outcomes of youth sports-related concussions
  13. Bernick & Banks (2013, June 04) What boxing tells us about repetitive head trauma and the brain
  14. Rigozzi, Kaufmann, & Malinverni (2003) Doping and Fundamental Rights of Athletes: Comments in the Wake of the Adoption of the World Anti-Doping Code
  15. Stanford Encyclopedia of Ethics (2018 June, 15) Aristotle's Ethics
  16. Murray T. (1983 August) The Coercive Power of Drugs in Sports