Anabolic steroids or synthetically engineered testosterone have been referred to as a “fountain of youth”. Their use can result in increased muscle size, strength, and speed, higher athletic performance, and positive body image making them very attractive, especially to athletes and body builders. A few years ago high-profile athletes were breaking record at an unbelievable pace which many people attributed to the use of steroids. Many claim that under the careful direction of medical experts, responsible steroid use is possible just as with any other prescription drug. Other claims there is no legitimate use for anabolic steroids. When asked about steroid use, Charles E. Yesalis, Ph.D., a Public Health expert said “There is no safe drug; there is no safe drug that ever exists. There is always a benefit to risk ratio. You name the drug and x percentage of people will suffer adverse effects” (Bigger, Stronger, Faster). Adverse side effects of anabolic steroids include acne, balding, increased aggression and increased risk of high blood pressure, heart attack and cancer. As a result, these drugs which are responsible for fewer deaths than tobacco, alcohol, and street drugs have been demonized, regulated and outlawed. The media has condemned the use of anabolic steroids and deemed it as cheating and unethical, especially for athletes. Despite all negative press, if Act Utilitarianism is used to analyze the consequences of taking anabolic steroids, it can be shown that taking anabolic steroids can be an ethically correct decision.
Act utilitarianism ethical theory considers the consequences of the actions rather than the actions, compares benefits (positives) and harms (negatives) that are accumulated by every affected person, and uses the sum of the benefits and negatives to select the best course of action or to determine if the action was morally right or morally wrong. “The intuitive idea behind utilitarianism is that one should act to bring about the best consequences and, hence, whether an act is morally right or wrong depends on whether the act does or does not bring about the best consequences.” (Utilitarianism and Business Ethics page 17) The four steps in properly applying act utilitarianism are to list all relevant alternatives, identify a list of affected people, analyze how the choice will affect the identified people, and select the choice that maximizes utility. Act utilitarianism ethical theory does not maximize the benefits for every affected individual. “Second, act utilitarianism is not the principle that we should maximize total benefits, rather, one should maximize utility.” (Utilitarianism and Business Ethics page 19) Utility is calculated by adding up all the benefits and harms of all the individuals affected by the actions. This simple addition and subtraction can be used to determine an overall utility rating for the action, positive being a correct action and negative being an incorrect action.
There are major down falls to applying act utilitarianism in real life cases. One is that the values assigned to the benefits and harms are very subjective and dependent on the perspective of the person assigning the numbers. Another is the difficult task of generating a list of all possible alternative activities and how each person will be affected. For anabolic steroid use, alternative activities could include steroid free training, using protein supplements, injecting human growth hormones, natural supplement training, and no training. For athletes, the list of affected people could include the user, family members, teammates, coaches, endorsers, co-workers, supervisors, and friends. For famous people it would be impossible to list all the people who might be influenced by their actions. The effects on the user can be divided into short-term and long-term effects. Negative short-term effects include acne, baldness, mutation of sexual organs, depression, and increased anger. Some of the long-term negative effects are stomach ulcers, kidney and liver tumors, and heart attacks. Effects on others may include negative publicity from associating with a steroid user, legal action, stress caused by problems and behavior changes, and costs of treating the adverse physical effects of steroid use. Teams could lose income from a premature end to a career or from negative publicity. Young people could start abusing steroids.
The short-term positive effects of steroids are increase muscled size, strength, and speed; increase athletic performance, higher endorsement deals, and better physical appearance. “Steroids seem necessary to compete at the highest levels, and the quick rewards can outweigh the long-term consequences to the user’s health.” (Howard Berman, California Congressman). The steroid user could amass benefits such as better athletic performance, larger endorsement deals, better professional contracts, more popularity, and more money. Some benefits to others might include such as the family are increased income, better living conditions, and more discretionary income. The team could benefit from better athletic performance, increased fan attendance, more victories, and more revenue. The benefits to teammates could include a better team record, more popularity, and championships. In a society that places so much emphasis on public and monetary status these benefits could counter act any harms that could be compiled on the affected group of individuals. The third step in applying act utilitarianism is to take all of the people who are affected by the choice of taking anabolic steroids and assign a benefit number and harm number for each alternative activity that applies to them. The final step would be to add the benefits and harms added and determine the action that maximized total utility. This decision would be deemed ethically acceptable.
Anabolic steroid uses increases the body’s natural ability to build muscle. Training or lifting weights break down fibers that make up muscles. The body repairs the muscles making them bigger and stronger. Anabolic steroids help to regenerate muscle tissue faster after a workout. This reduced recovery time results in much faster increases in muscle size and mass. The possibilities of rapid improvement make anabolic steroids very tempting for non-athletes, athletes, power lifters, and profession body builders. “We are living in a generation of young men and women that have been brain washed by Madison Avenue to be buff. We are living in a generation where all they know is instant gratification.” (Steve Michalik– National Geographic Documentary). Faster training recovery, improved physical results, and an advantage over competition captures the instant gratification obsession. With such a high number of benefits in favor of taking anabolic steroids it begs the questions, why do the American people have such a large negative perception of them?
Over the past decades, anabolic steroid use has been gaining an increasingly negative public image in the United States. The Mitchell report, released December 13th, 2007, investigated the use of anabolic steroid by several high-profile baseball players created a mass media storm that invoked public outrage. Many in the media claimed that steroid use by baseball players, other famous athletes and body builders was promoting steroid abuse among high school and college students, especially athletes. Almost daily, the news aired another horror story about an innocent high school athlete that took steroids and died. These negative images fueled the public’s belief that steroid use by athletes was out of control and started a steroid witch-hunt that has rampaged through professional sports for almost half a decade. Data showed that only about 15% of all steroid takers in America are athletes (Bigger, Stronger, Faster minute 38). There are accurate data for the number of athletes that use steroids.
A question that needs to adequately addressed before the information can be used in Act utilitarianism is whether the act of taking steroids ethically wrong or is the advantage that some athletes gain over their competition the real ethical problem? It can be argued that taking steroids under the direction of a health expert can increase performance while limiting the adverse side effects and preventing abuse. There is a healthy way of taking steroids that includes a technique called “cycling” which is a carefully scheduled regiment of steroids. The person still has to train to gain improved performance. This behavior can be viewed as ethical. Anabolic steroids make it possible to push your body beyond its normal limits and gain an advantage over others who do not take anabolic steroids. Many users believe that everyone else is taking steroids and they need to take them to stay competitive. In this case, everyone has the same ethics. Many also believe that winning is the only thing that matters and taking anabolic steroids is justifiable.
When people in high influence positions, such as athletes or movie actors/actresses, choose to take steroids in secret or without proper monitoring the consequences can have far-reaching effects. Anabolic steroids had been in use for almost a century before the first real explosion of negative publicity occurred in the 1988 Olympics games. Canadian Ben Johnson defeated the unbeatable American Carl Lewis in the finals of the 100m dash and set a new world record. Later a drug test revealed that Ben Johnson was using anabolic steroids. He was stripped of his gold metal he the title of the “world’s fastest man” and deemed a cheater by the press. Many Americans felt that Ben Johnson cheated and had an unfair advantage and that was unethical.
Steroids were used by American athletes at the Olympics since the 1930s. “The truth is, steroids were the secret weapon that helped Americans fight the Russians on the Olympic battle field” (Bigger, Stronger, Faster minute 24) The 1930s United States Olympic coach was asked if taking steroids was cheating, and he responded “No, because we figured every one taking them. We figured even-Steven.” The US coaches had the mentality that if every athlete participating in the Olympic Games was taking steroids then taking steroids was not an ethical issue. Today’s bodybuilder relies on steroids and other performance enhancing drugs to be able to pack as much muscle onto their frames as possible. As put by Greg Valentino (The Man Whose Arms Exploded) “I think steroids are as American as apple pie” (Bigger, Stronger, Faster), it would appear that taking anabolic steroids are becoming more socially acceptable. Using Act utilitarian ethical theory, decisions by the coaches in the 1930 Olympic and modern body builders were ethically correct because everyone was taking anabolic steroids, no one had an advantage and everyone enjoyed the benefits.
Act Utilitarian theory shows that proper use of anabolic steroids under medical supervision has many more positives than negatives and that the greatest utility can be achieved. It can be used to objectively look a t the benefits and harms of taking anabolic steroids. Appling act utilitarianism ethical theory to the use of anabolic steroids shows has great utility and to the conclusion the proper use anabolic steroids is an ethically positive decision.
Bigger Stronger Faster. Dir. Chris Bell. Perf. Chris Bell, Mike Bell, Mark Bell. BFS Films, 2008. Documentary.
National Geographic – Superhuman: Steroids
MTv True Life: I’m on Steroids – MTv True Life: I’m on Steroids. MTv. Youtube.com. 28 Apr. 2011. Web. 1 Nov. 2011. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZEsXOXRtHaA.
The Man Whose Arms Exploded – The Man Whose Arms Exploded. Dir. Bruce Hepton. Perf. Greg Valentino, Melle Mel, Steve Michalik. Youtube.com. 1 Feb. 2009. Web. 1 Nov. 2011. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7fUCQH6K-hY>.