J Med Ethics 31:15-20 doi:10.1136/jme.2003.004812
  • Clinical ethics

Risk and supervised exercise: the example of anorexia to illustrate a new ethical issue in the traditional debates of medical ethics

  1. S Giordano
  1. Correspondence to:
 Dr S Giordano
 Centre for Social Ethics and Policy (CSEP)/Institute of Medicine, Law and Bioethics (IMLAB), The University of Manchester, The School of Law, Williamson Building, Oxford Road, Manchester M13 9PL, UK;
  • Accepted 3 February 2004


Sport and physical activity is an area that remains relatively unexplored by contemporary bioethics. It is, however, an area in which important ethical issues arise. This paper explores the case of the participation of people with anorexia nervosa in exercise. Exercise is one of the central features of anorexia. The presence of anorexics in exercise classes is becoming an increasingly sensitive issue for instructors and fitness professionals. The ethics of teaching exercise to anorexics has, however, seldom, if ever, been addressed. Codes of ethics and legislation do not offer guidelines pertinent to the case and it is left unclear whether anorexics should be allowed to participate in exercise classes. It is shown by this paper that there are strong ethical reasons to let anorexics participate in exercise classes. However, the paper also explains why, despite these apparently cogent ethical reasons, there is no moral obligation to allow a person with anorexia to take part in exercise/sports activities.