By Tracie White
Standford Medical Center
STANFORD, Calif. — Proposed Olympic policies for testing the testosterone levels of select female athletes could discriminate against women who may not meet traditional notions of femininity and distort the scientific evidence on the relationship between testosterone, sex and athletic performance, says a Stanford University School of Medicine bioethicist and her colleagues.
They also warn that the proposed policies would not only be unfair, but also could lead to female athletes being coerced into unnecessary and potentially harmful medical treatment in order to continue competing. The critique was published online today in The American Journal of Bioethics.
The testing policies, adopted a year ago by the International Association of Athletics Federations and now under consideration by the International Olympic Committee, call for using testosterone levels to decide whether an athlete is “feminine” enough to compete as a woman. The problem, the authors explain, is that there is insufficient evidence to set a benchmark for a normal testosterone levels in elite female athletes, let alone persuasive research showing that testosterone levels are a good predictor of athletic performance.
“What makes sex testing so complicated is that there is no one marker in the body we can use to say, ‘This is a man,’ or, ‘This is a woman,’” said first author of the paper Katrina Karkazis, PhD, a medical anthropologist and senior research scholar at Stanford’s Center for Biomedical Ethics. “These new policies try to get around that complexity by singling out testosterone levels as the most important aspect of athletic advantage. But what causes athletic advantage is equally complex and cannot be reduced to testosterone levels.”
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Published June 14th, 2012