OT: Technology and (Dis)Ability

An Amputee Sprinter: Is He Disabled or Too-Abled?

Pistorius was born without the fibula in his lower legs and with other defects in his feet. He had both legs amputated below the knee when he was 11 months old. At 20, his coach says, he is like a five-speed engine with no second gear.

Yet Pistorius is also a searing talent who has begun erasing the lines between abled and disabled, raising philosophical questions: What should an athlete look like? Where should limits be placed on technology to balance fair play with the right to compete? Would the nature of sport be altered if athletes using artificial limbs could run faster or jump higher than the best athletes using their natural limbs?

[…] Since March, Pistorius has delivered startling record performances for disabled athletes at 100 meters (10.91 seconds), 200 meters (21.58 seconds) and 400 meters (46.34 seconds). Those times do not meet Olympic qualifying standards for men, but the Beijing Games are still 15 months away. Already, Pistorius is fast enough that his marks would have won gold medals in equivalent women’s races at the 2004 Athens Olympics.

Pistorius’s time of 46.56 in the 400 earned him a second-place finish in March against able-bodied runners at the South African national championships. This seemingly makes him a candidate for the Olympic 4×400-meter relay should South Africa qualify as one of the world’s 16 fastest teams.

[…] “I pose a question” for the I.A.A.F., said Robert Gailey, an associate professor of physical therapy at the University of Miami Medical School, who has studied amputee runners. “Are they looking at not having an unfair advantage? Or are they discriminating because of the purity of the Olympics, because they don’t want to see a disabled man line up against an able-bodied man for fear that if the person who doesn’t have the perfect body wins, what does that say about the image of man?”

[…] A sobering question was posed recently on the Web site of the Connecticut-based Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies. “Given the arms race nature of competition,” will technological advantages cause “athletes to do something as seemingly radical as having their healthy natural limbs replaced by artificial ones?” wrote George Dvorsky, a member of the institute’s board of directors. “Is it self-mutilation when you’re getting a better limb?”

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