Prosthetic Limbs And Their Integration In Sports: Is It Fair To Other Athletes? Essay Sample
Type of paper: Essay
Topic: Sports, Technology, Development, Athletes, Skills, Advantage, People, Ability
The idea of including prosthetic limbs in sports is based on an ethical reason: that it is ethically good to enable the disabled participate in sports. Prosthetic limbs empower the amputated athletes to run almost like normal humans. Despite the ethical reason behind the inclusion of prosthetic limbs in sports, however, there are counter-arguments against the inclusion of prosthetic limbs in sports, and in the USA, the prosthetic limbs have been prohibited according to Bidlack (2009). The fairness or unfairness of including prosthetic limbs in sports depends on the perspective that one takes in his or her argument. Considering amputees as human beings with the desire to participate in sporting activities, the human rights perspective gives good reasons for inclusion of prosthetic limbs in sports. However, the opposition to prosthetic limbs in sports is based on the fact that it changes the nature of sports, and Bidlack (2009) explains that legally, based on Americans with Disability Act, any case that comes before the American court to argue in favor of prosthetic limbs would lose the support of the court because according to ADA, utmost fairness should be exercised in sports without giving any group undue advantage.
It is important to understand the historical progression of the technology behind prosthetic limbs because such understanding determines the morality/immorality and legality/illegality of including prosthetic limbs in sports. According to Chalmers University of Technology prosthetic limbs uses the technology of implanting electrodes into the limbs of the amputees. The electrodes enable them to control their arms just like the ordinary athletes. This is the basic ideology behind the use of prosthetic limbs in sports. However, the modern prosthetic limbs have a historical development.
Ott, Serlin, and Mihm (2002) discuss the historical development of prosthetic limbs. The early designs of prosthetic limbs were designed just for single purpose activities. Ott, Serlin, and Mihm (2002) explain that the early designs of prosthetic limbs were used for holding specific items like pens, guns, and knifes. The intention of developing prosthetic limbs was to decrease the disabilities of the amputees by empowering them to hold such items. In addition, the early farmers, according to Ott, Serlin, and Mihm (2002), used the technology of prosthetic limbs to curve out a wooden eye for replacement. However, the demand for prosthetic limbs increased. The period between 1865 and 1968 saw the increase in demand for prosthetic limbs among the soldiers. Ott, Serlin, and Mihm explain that prosthesis was a technology that was considered as overcoming the challenge of amputation, and this is the factor that developed its popularity.
The modern versions of prosthetic limbs have used advanced technologies that have enhanced the ability of the limbs to absorb shock. The modern prosthetic limbs are even used in sprinting (Bidlack, 2009). Furthermore, modern technology has enabled the amputees who use the prosthetic limbs to even control the limbs with their minds. Chalmers University of technology explains that the technology has included the use of electrodes in the prosthetic limbs, a development that has increased the ability of the amputees to use the limbs with a lot of control from their minds.
The historical development of prosthetic limbs reveals that in the past, the major concern has been towards increasing the users’ ability to control the limbs so that such a person functions like an ordinary human being. In other words, the difference between the athletes using the prosthetic limbs and those with the ordinary limbs is that the prosthetic limbs are synthetic (unnatural). However, there is the argument that prosthetic limbs give the amputees undue advantage.
The past rulings over the necessity of allowing athletes to use prosthetic limbs show the controversial nature of the debate. Initially, IAAF banned Pistorius from Olympics. The main logic behind the banning of prosthetic limbs users from athletics has been that the talent that they display on the track does not reveal their natural ability. As such, the international athletics governing authorities have considered it an unethical practice to use the prosthetic limbs in athletics competitions and other sporting activities.
The background of Oscar Pistorius shows, may be, why the amputees need a legal consideration of the authorities to allow them use the prosthetic limbs. Pistorius is an athlete with the talent and desire to sprint. He became amputated a year after his birth, a condition that forced him to begin using fiber-glasses for walking at a tender age. His initial sport, according to Bidlack (2009) was rugby. However, Pistorius gained a lot of interest in sprinting after he suffered a knee injury. In 2004 paralympics competitions in Athens, Pistorius won the 200 meters race, a race that is considered the most difficult for amputees. He later became more interested in even tougher races, including the 100 meters sprinting races. The case of Oscar Pistorius shows that for amputees, there is nothing extra-ordinary that the prosthetic limbs add to them. The use of the limbs creates a level-playground between the amputees an ordinary people, and it is a way of enabling the amputees to explore their talents. In the case of Pistorius, it is evident that the athlete started using the prosthetic limbs at a tender age. His ability to win the sprinting races only shows how amputees can run like ordinary people when they use the prosthetic limbs.
The ruling of IAAF, however, failed to consider some logical truths, and according to Bidlack (2009), Court of Arbitration for Sports (CAS) overturned the ruling of IAAF because it failed to meet the burden of proof in showing that the prosthetic limbs gave Pistorius an undue advantage. For the limbs to give an amputee an undue advantage, it is important, first, to show that there is some unnatural strength that comes from the prosthetic limbs. Secondly, Pistorius did not compete with able-athletes but disabled ones. Ruling Pistorius out of the Beijing competitions would unfairly affect his dream of participating in the competition. Since IAAF lacked sufficient proof over the undue advantage issue, CAS ruled that it was not fair for CAS to ban Pistorius from the competitions on mere allegations that were not scientifically proven.
Furthermore, IAAF did not consider the acquaintance that Pistorius had gained by using the limbs since his childhood. Accord to CAS, there was a lot of unreliability of the scientific evidence that IAAF presented against Pistorius. In IAAF’s argument, the body argued that scientifically, one requires less energy to propel forward, and that the energy that Pistorius exhibited while using the prosthetic limbs was beyond the ordinary. IAAF, therefore, felt that Pistorius’ energy was related with the prosthetic limbs, and it is this argument that CAS found unreasonable and lacking sufficient proof. The possible argument that IAAF should have used is the great control that amputees get through the electrodes in the prosthetic limbs. This argument could have made more sense that arguing that Pistorius’ energy came from the prosthetic h limbs. Even with the argument of electrodes, it would still be difficult for IAAF to prevent Pistorius from participating in the Athens and London Olympics. Electrodes only give the athletes the ability to control their limbs through coordination with the brain. Arguably, ordinary people too have the ability to control their limbs with their brains, and by giving the amputees this ability through the electrodes, it is only true that the electrodes create a fair ground between amputees and ordinary people.
The need to outlaw the amputees from using prosthetic limbs has also been expressed through the national rulings. Bidlack explains that despite the concern that the amputees will get undue advantage through their use of prosthetic limbs in sports; the amputees are protected by the law. The ADA act gives the amputees equal and fair opportunities because they fall in the category of people with disabilities. However, the law is not clear in its application in sports, for example, it does not explain in letter the use of prosthetic limbs in sports. This limitation appears to have been misused by the courts and organizations that have participated in natural ruling. In spirit, the act implies that any action that denies the people with disabilities their rights and equal opportunities to participate in life activities is unfair and illegal. Athletes with physical disabilities, like any other humans, have the passion and talent to participate in extracurricular activities.
Applying the rulings that have prevented the athletes from participating in international event to schools by extension, it means that students with disabilities should be prevented from exploring their talents by using prosthetic limbs. This is a matter that Bidlack (2009, p.621) terms as one that the national rulings have ignored. There is the need for the national rulings to consider the trickle-down effect of such rulings. Bidlack (2009) explains that preventing the amputees from using the prosthetic limbs, in considered of the ADA act, amounts to gross violation of the rights of people with disability. It is, therefore, important that before the courts rule out the use of prosthetic limbs in sports, they have to consider the implications of such rulings on human rights in light of the ADA.
Marks and Michael (2001) explain how the innovations in prosthetic limbs have attempted making the use of the limbs easier and more comfortable. According to Marks and Michael (2001), in recent years, “Technical innovations have combined to make artificial limbs more comfortable, efficient, and lifelike than the other (earlier) versions,” (p.732). This shows that the objective of improving the prosthetic limbs has not been to give the amputees any undue or unfair advantage as the courts argue. Rather, the objective has been to improve the quality of life for the amputees so that they can participate in life activities just like the ordinary people.
According to Marks and Michael (2001), the past two decades have experienced a remarkable growth in the technology of prosthetic limbs. The major drive behind the remarkable technological growth has been to meet the growing demands of the amputees. Since people like Oscar Pistorius have become famous because they have used the prosthetic limbs in sporting, the amputees have changed their attitudes towards themselves. They have gained the confidence of participating in life-activities like the ordinary people. Their demand for the prosthetic limbs has grown so that they can participate in sporting activities and other activities. The authors explain in the modern world, people who are otherwise healthy but affected by amputation should feel comfortable participating in a full-range of normal activities. They become more responsible if they are allowed to use the prosthetic limbs.
Chalmers University of Technology, like Marks and Michael, discusses the technological development behind prosthetic limbs and why they have increased the comfort and ability of the amputees to live ordinary lives. Chalmers University of Technology (2013) explains a surgical operation where doctors have made a breakthrough in implanting the neuromuscular electrodes permanently into an athlete’s limbs. It is the neuromuscular electrodes that national and international rulings against the prosthetic limbs may have assumed to give the athletes undue advantage. However, the limitation of such assumptions is their lack of scientific backing.
Although there is lack of clear studies to show if the neuromuscular electrodes give the amputees any abnormal strength, the explanation of the technology behind the limbs shows that the limbs are developed in the normal biological basis of how the human body functions. There is no evidence of any chemical inhibitors that lead to abnormal muscle stimulation of the muscles. The work of the electrodes is simply to give the amputees the ability to control their synthetic limbs (Chalmers University of Technology, 2013).
There are also predicted developments for prosthetic technologies. These developments intend to continue making the use of prosthetic limbs easier and a lot more comfortable than the current versions of prosthetic limbs. One of the predicted developments in prosthetic technology is the direct attachment of the prosthetic limbs to the skeletal muscles. In addition, the amputees continue demanding for more human-like prosthetic limbs that will make them appear more human. The problem with the current versions of prosthetic limbs, for instance, is the noise that they produce while the amputees use them for running. The noise is irritating and it is one of the likely reasons for the feeling that amputees should be prevented from using them. The noise makes sports in which the prosthetic limbs are used to appear unnatural. Although it is true that the prosthetic limbs are unnatural, the predicted development of prosthetic technology aims at making the prosthetic limbs more natural, e.g. producing little or no noise. Such a development will make a sport that incorporates prosthetic technology to become more natural.
Some of the predicted developments, however, are likely to spur the feeling that prosthetic technology creates undue advantage for the people with disabilities. Explaining one of the predicted developments in Prosthetic technology, Marks and Michael (2001) explain that in the future, prosthetic technology shall incorporate the use of microprocessors. The microprocessors shall control the prosthesis to give it a finely-tuned movement. If such technological developments occur as predicted, the courts and other legal arms shall raise the argument that the microprocessors make movement easier and more mechanical for the amputated athletes than the normal athletes who do not use the prosthetic limbs. However, Marks and Michael (2001) explain that the developments shall be constrained by the financial challenges that affect developing countries more than the developed countries. This means that if prosthetic technology takes the shape of the current predictions, the setback shall be the inability of some of the users to purchase the prosthetic limbs.
In conclusion, the argument is that prosthetic technology has developed at a very high rate, and it is this development that has spurred the feeling that the use of prosthetic limbs gives the amputated athletes undue advantage. If prosthetic technology develops at the predicted pace to take the predicted form, the idea is that prosthesis shall pass the human limitations. It is important to draw a line between prosthetic limbs and the abilities they give the amputees. The past rulings, e.g. IAAF ruling against Pistorius, show that there is no clear understanding of the prosthetic limbs. The court lacked scientific evidence to prove that the limbs gave Pistorius unfair advantage.
The need to include or exclude prosthetic limbs from sports is a judgment that requires a careful consideration of the law and the ethics of undue advantage. There is need for scientific research to find the abilities that prosthetic technology adds to the athletes. Considering the need to respect the rights of the disabled and to give them fair opportunities to participate in life-activities including sports can give us a different and better direction on the matter. While respecting the rights of the amputees to participate in sports equally like normal people, prosthetic technology should incorporate any technologies that create unfair advantage, e.g. by stimulating the muscles. The technology should just ‘normalize’ the amputees without giving them any undue advantage in sports.
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Chalmers University of Technology. (Feb 22, 2013). World Premiere of Muscle and Arm
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Marks, L., & Michael, J. (Sep 29, 2001). Artificial Limbs. Retrieved on April 13, 2015 from
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