Friday, May 23, 2008

Art Caplan on 'Blade-Runner' ruling

[Cross posted from]:

Over at MSNBC, Art writes that he's not so sure that Pistorious should be allowed to compete in the Olympics:

Should anyone who must run on prosthetic legs be allowed to compete in the Olympics or other sporting events?

Oscar Pistorius, a college student from South Africa, has been told he can compete in the Beijing games this August, in either the 400-meter or the 1600-meter relay race as a member of the South African team, if he can reach a qualifying time.

The decision has been greeted around the world with approval. Some see it as a triumph for the disabled. It is easy to see why. Pistorius, known as the Blade Runner, is a very appealing, articulate young man who trains hard and sincerely wants a chance to compete. But I am not sure letting him run is the right decision.

Pistorius was born with major bones missing in both his lower legs. His legs were amputated at the knees when he was a child. He runs using artificial limbs made of carbon fiber, known as Cheetah blades. The controversy over whether Pistorius should be allowed to compete has focused exclusively on whether his Cheetah blades give him an unfair advantage.

Last January the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) said, based on a report from a German scientist, that mechanical legs give anyone using them an advantage in a race. They are more energy efficient than human legs, ultra-light, springier and do not fatigue. The IAAF said since the Cheetahs helped athletes perform better, it would ban their use. That decision meant no Olympics for Pistorius.

Pistorius appealed the ban to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in Lausanne, Switzerland. Scientists at six universities in three nations took a look at Pistorius’ artificial legs. They concluded that the available evidence about the advantages of the Cheetah blades was insufficient. Last week the court said that, until more evidence was produced, Pistorius was eligible. The IAAF backed down and Pistorius can now compete.

What if further study does show that Pistorius can run faster because his artificial Cheetah blades work better than legs? Should he or others be kept out of competitions involving able-bodied persons?

(read the rest)

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