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Ethicist urges curb on doctors banning boxing

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The medical profession should restrain itself on boxing to informing those in the sport of the dangers and advising how to cut the risk of serious injuries, says a UK medical ethicist, after a call by the Australian Medical Association to ban the sport and other proposals for compulsory brain scans and genetic tests to determine sensitivity to brain injury.

The consent that exists between the parties in boxing is the central argument, he says: to try to bring about a ban is to flout the principle of autonomy of the individual that the profession must abide by in other contexts—when dealing with patients.

The call for a ban may be founded on misguided notions, he believes. So it is untrue to state, as others have, that boxing is the only sport in which the contestants can kill or intend to do so in order to win without breaking any rule. Boxers set out neither to kill nor maim, whatever their pre-fight machismo and aggressive claims, but seek to outbox each other. A contest can be won without recourse to a knockout blow—on points, by surrender, or by the referee’s decision—he argues.

Yet there are measures that could reduce risk of injury—cutting rounds from twelve to ten, say, or eight; extending the interval between rounds to permit more recovery time; encouraging referees to stop fights earlier; and introducing better head protection for the contestants. True, the darker side of the boxing world still prevails: boxing management needs reform, but that falls outside the remit of the medical profession.