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Beyond Therapy by the President’s Council on Bioethics

- Abstract

In his recent State of the Union address, in between announcing new initiatives for abstinence-based sex education and drug-testing in schools, President Bush took a moment to inveigh against the use of steroids in professional sports. “The use of performance-enhancing drugs . . . is dangerous,” he declared, “and it sends the wrong message.” Most Americans would probably agree. At the same time, it seems safe to say that most Americans would not consider the spread of performance-enhancing drugs a pressing concern, which makes their inclusion in the State of the Union address somewhat incongruous.

But there may be more to the President’s anodyne exhortation than meets the ear. Consider his language: he cautioned against the idea that steroids are “shortcuts to accomplishment,” and that “performance is more important than character.” Surely this moral injunction applies to more than just drug use by athletes. Should we not be similarly wary of other substances—say, stimulants like Ritalin, which can enhance alertness and concentration even in people already functioning within the normal range? Or mood-brightening agents like Zoloft and Paxil, which (when used by people who are not mentally ill) produce contentment and self-esteem without the hard work of self-improvement? Or the panoply of as-yet-undeveloped biotechnologies, both pharmacological and genetic, that promise to make us stronger, or smarter, or happier?

About the Author

Kevin Shapiro is a research fellow in neuroscience and a student at Harvard Medical School.