By Sharon K. Gilbert
LAST NIGHT, while waiting to ‘get sleepy’, I tuned into the BBC News channel on our Roku box to catch up on the latest Olympic results. The first image to greet my curiosity was a chart of the medal standings. As you see from the chart to the left, the United States holds a comfortable lead not only in the overall number of medals, but also in the number of gold medals.
Since these world ‘games’ are touted as being a unification of the world countries in one place, with one dream, one cause (I’ll save the analysis of that Babylonian redux and its spiritual motives for another essay), why should numbers matter? Isn’t the whole point to share a friendly rivalry in peace? Of course it isn’t the point! Every country wants to take home the gold, and denying it is pointless.
Ask any athlete if he/she attends the Olympic games to elevate world politics to a higher plane. Children in many countries the world over begin their training as soon as they can walk. Witness some of the remarkable images that scorched both news sites and social media conversations, showing toddlers being tortured in the name of excellence.
China’s most famous, and quickly becoming infamous, athlete is the swimmer Ye Shiwen, whose record breaking time shattered even male counterparts’ best efforts. Rumors soon began to fly that her achievement might not be the result of training alone, but that some kind of doping might be involved. The officials have repeatedly assured those who’ve complained (and this is a growing number) that winners are consistently tested for banned substances, which means (technically) that Shiwen is considered a ‘natural’ athlete.
But what if an athlete uses a method that is not detectable by current methods? What about ‘gene doping’?
If this term is new to you, don’t be alarmed. It is relatively new to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) as well. Advances in gene therapy techniques have led to this growing industry called ‘genetic enhancement’. Though athletes have been known to ‘cheat’ throughout the modern games’ history, it wasn’t until 1968 that the IOC formalized the rules. Then in 1999, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) formed in Lausenne and became the de facto drug police for international sports, including the IOC. The list of banned substances is extensive but not exhaustive. For instance, even though ‘erythropoetic agents’ are banned (drugs that stimulate the production of red blood cells to carry more oxygen), the introduction of genetic factors that would produce excessive red blood cells is not clearly defined in the current code.
Do athletes currently implement genetic doping? The technology has been there for over a decade, if not longer. When so much is at stake–fame, money, pride, advancement versus rejection, harassment, failure, and possible punishment (in some countries)–it is quite likely that many athletes succumb to the lure of being a superachiever.
There are two types of genetic enhancers: somatic and germline. The somatic (soma is Greek for ‘body’) refers to gene therapy that introduces a new gene or genes via an inactivated or attenuated viral vector (delivery system) into a muscle cell, lung cell, or even neurological cell. Germline modification occurs in sperm or ova cells and affects offspring. Recipients can run faster without growing weary, jump higher, swim and not fatigue, think more clearly while under stress, and perhaps require less sleep.
In other words, genetic doping can create temporary superhumans. Germline doping can create a new, permanently modified human offspring. Yes, we are talking about transhumanism. Think about this while watching the Olympic ‘games’. Perhaps their revival during the height of the eugenics movement wasn’t a coincidence.