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The not-so-sweet science: the role of the medical profession in boxing
  1. D K Sokol
  1. Correspondence to:
 D K Sokol
 Medical Ethics Unit, Department of Primary Health Care and General Practice, Imperial College London, Reynolds Building, St Dunstan’s Road, London W6 8RP, UK;

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The medical profession’s role should be limited to advice and information

The medical establishment’s desire to interfere with the autonomous wishes of boxers seems at odds with the principle of respect for autonomy prevalent in contemporary biomedical practice. I argue that the role of the medical profession in boxing should be solely an advisory and informational one. In addition, the distinctions made between boxing and other high risk sports often rely on an insufficient knowledge of the sport. This leads to misdirected criticisms and excessive emphasis on the colourful discourse of boxing, as opposed to the practice of boxing itself. Dr Herrera’s claim in his article (see page 514) that boxing differs from other sports in the acceptability of its acts outside the realm of sport is refuted.1 The importance of consent as a legitimising factor is highlighted, and a number of possible solutions to improve safety within the sport are tentatively suggested.

In the United Kingdom, a competent adult may legally refuse medical treatment, irrespective of the severity of his condition or the validity of his reasons. With the pre-eminence of an autonomy based model of bioethics, respecting a patient’s wishes forms an integral part of acting in his best interests. It is puzzling, then, to find that the Australian Medical Association have called for a ban on boxing on the grounds that the activity is excessively hazardous to the health of boxers. The often mentioned principle of respect for autonomy is abandoned once the person drops the privileged title of “patient”. This suggests that being a patient …

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