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J Med Ethics 30:514-515 doi:10.1136/jme.2003.003533
  • Sports ethics

The search for meaningful comparisons in boxing and medical ethics

  1. C D Herrera
  1. Correspondence to:
 Dr C D Herrera
 Philosophy Department, Montclair State University, 1 Normal Avenue, Upper Montclair, NJ, USA; herrerachmail.montclair.edu
  • Received 25 February 2003
  • Accepted 9 February 2004

Boxers and healthcare workers alike should be able to exercise their rights

Although there are calls elsewhere to ban boxing, the Australian Medical Association advocates a less restrictive rule. Professional boxers would submit to brain scans and MRIs—but what to do with the results of such tests? Critics say that boxers should decide which risks they take, but boxers are not the only ones in the debate. Healthcare workers understandably want some say in which risks people take, because the hospital is where boxers go when injuries occur (assuming they live). These issues of ethics and obligation are not made easier to resolve by the many disputed comparisons in this debate. Is boxing like other risk taking behaviour? Are physicians like other public employees? Until such questions are answered, a compromise would have check ups made mandatory, without forcing boxers to act on any knowledge gained.

There is no shortage of comparisons in the debate over boxing. Boxing, we hear, is like fast food: dangerous yes, but it does offer some benefits. No, the opposing side contends, boxing is like a pistol duel: once considered sophisticated, it is now just a ritualistic violence. Perhaps boxing is like smoking: inform boxers of the risks and let them at it. Then again, if boxing is like smoking, people who do not realise how dangerous it is need protection from it. Depending on who you listen to, boxing is an expression of individualism and personal sacrifice—the next best thing to running your own country—or it illustrates the danger in letting concern for autonomy overstretch the social fabric. And so the comparisons continue, without really convincing anyone. Not surprisingly, reformist proposals that could include mandatory brain scans for boxers are viewed as intrusive …