Cardiovascular capers by Les Earnest


How the threat of terrorism was used to justify illicit blood testing during the 1984 Olympic Games


Originally published in the January 1985 issue of Cyclops USA


What would you say if a staff member of a national sports organization ran across some technical literature sug­gesting that “blood boosting” might improve the performance of athletes and sent a memo about this idea to a number of Directors and other staff members? What if he were told by his boss not to undertake a project of this sort unless the Board of Directors con­curs, but he found that an officer and the head coach were willing to help him undertake the project in secret?


What if the literature that he dis­tributed extolling the virtues of blood boosting (based on re-infusing the athlete's own blood) also happened to mention that if someone else's blood were used for this purpose “the poten­tial for transmitting hepatitis or other communicable diseases, or even the remote possibility of death due to improper blood matching, far outweighs any potential benefits. Therefore, human ethics committees will not permit this procedure for research purposes and it certainly should never be used by athletes.” (Emphasis added.)


Suppose that they decided to use the transfusion scheme anyway and found a medical doctor who was uneth­ical enough to perform it. And sup­pose that instead of transfusing the amount of blood that the studies indi­cate is required to improve perfor­mance, they used about half that amount, so that the athletes were exposed to risk but had no chance to improve their performance.


Suppose that this were done in a motel room at the Olympics. And sup­pose that blood samples were taken to a local hospital for typing by a Mexican with a broken leg. And suppose that the hospital was told that the blood typing was being requested as a preparatory measure in case of a ter­rorist attack on the Olympians. And suppose that they believed that.


Would you believe a story like that? Neither would I. It couldn't pos­sibly have happened.


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