In 2010, physician delegates to the CMA's annual General Council voted in favour of a ban on mixed martial arts prize fighting matches in Canada. The CMA's complete policy on head injury and sport, the central concern of physicians with respect to mixed martial arts, is attached as an appendix to this brief. A key recommendation in this policy is that physicians discourage participation in sports in which intentional trauma to the head and body is the objective of the sport, as is the case with mixed martial arts (MMA).
MMA prize fighting, like commercial boxing, is distinct from healthy sport because the basic tenet is to win by deliberately incapacitating one's opponent through violent bodily assault. Professional fighters train in different martial arts disciplines in order to develop the widest possible set of fighting techniques. Blows delivered by hands, feet, elbows and knees are entirely permissible.1 "Bouts" are won in a number of ways that include deliberate head injury such as knockout (KO) and technical knockout (TKO). Physician and referee stoppage are recognized as a necessary option for the declaration of a winner in order to prevent continued violence.4; 5
Despite the introduction of rules and regulations meant to ensure fighter safety, MMA is a violent sport with a high risk of injury. Publications seem to indicate that the overall injury rate in professional MMA competitions ranges approximately from 23 to 28 injuries per 100 fight participations, which is similar to that found in other combat sports involving striking, including boxing.1; 5; 7 Organizers support the rules because they realize that prize fighting can't be sustained as a business if the fighters are unable to return to the ring.
The injuries vary in severity but include many types of head injury: ocular injuries, such as rupture of the bony orbit or of the eye itself; facial injuries including fractures; spine injuries; concussion; and tympanic membrane ruptures.2, 6, 7
Most sanctioned matches end in a submission, judge's decision or referee/physician stoppage, as opposed to KO or TKO. It is important to note that the overall risk of critical injury, defined as a persistent acquired brain injury, permanent blindness, permanent functional loss of limb or paralysis, appears to be low. The ability of referees to intercede and for fighters to voluntarily concede victory to their opponents, as well as the presence of physicians at the ringside, are all thought to play a role in minimizing the risk of critical injury.7
The risk of traumatic brain injury and concussion nevertheless remains one of the chief concerns with respect to MMA. KO rates are thought to be lower in professional MMA events than in similar boxing competitions, but it is not clear why. It is well known that knockouts are the result of brain injury4 and at least one study reported that blunt trauma to the head was a common reason for match stoppage. One study reported a severe concussion rate of 16.5 per 100 fighter participations (3.3% of all matches). 6 Regrettably, as in other combat sports, long-term follow-up of players is insufficient to measure how often head injury leads to permanent brain damage.1, 3
Whether you defend or condemn MMA, the true nature and rate of severe brain injuries is speculative.6 Similarly, the absence of longitudinal studies means that the true long-term health implications of MMA fighting can only be surmised.
Risk factors for injury
Unsurprisingly, losing fighters are at a considerably greater risk for sustaining injury. It is notable that fighters losing by KO or TKO appear to have a higher overall incidence of injury.4 An increased duration of fighting is associated with an increased incidence of injury.3, 5 However, it remains unclear how age and fight experience contribute to the risk for sustaining injury.2, 3, 4 It appears that fighters with head injury continue to fight and sustain further injury, head injury being more clearly associated with injury than are either inexperience or age.
Despite the sport's growing popularity, professional MMA competitions are currently illegal in Canada. Indeed, section 83(2) of the Criminal Code of Canada states that only boxing matches, where only fists are used, are legal. However, the governments of Nova Scotia, Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba and Northwest Territories have regulated/licensed MMA through athletic governing commissions, effectively circumventing the Criminal Code. The legality of the sport in New Brunswick, Alberta and British Columbia currently varies by municipality.
The CMA recommends that Section 83(2) of the Criminal Code, the ban on mixed martial arts, be maintained in its current form.
The CMA recommends that the federal government undertake further research on head injuries and concussion in Canada, including expanding current surveillance tools for the incidence of these injuries.
1. Bledsoe, G. H. (2009). Mixed martial arts. In R. Kordi, N. Maffulli, R. R. Wroble, & W. A. Angus (Eds.), Combat Sports Medicine (1st ed., pp. 323-330). London: Springer.
2. Buse, G. J. (2006). No holds barred sport fighting: A 10 year review of mixed martial arts competition. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 40(2),169-172.
3. Bledsoe, G. H., Hsu, E. B., Grabowski, J. G., Brill, J. D., & Li, G. (2006). Incidence of injury in professional mixed martial arts competitions. Journal of Sports Science and Medicine, 5(Combat Sports Special Issue), 136-142.
4. Walrod, B. (2011). Current review of injuries sustained in mixed martial arts competition. Current Sports Medicine Reports, 10(5), 288-289.
5. Unified Fighting Championship. (n.d.). Unified rules and other important regulations of mixed martial arts. Retrieved May 28, 2012, from http://www.ufc.com/discover/sport/rules-and-regulations
6. Ngai, K. M., Levy, F., & Hsu, E. B. (2008). Injury trends in sanctioned mixed martial arts competition: A 5-year review from 2002 to 2007. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 42(8), 686-689.
7. Scoggin III, J. F., Brusovanik, G., Pi, M., Izuka, B., Pang, P., Tokomura, S. et al. (2010). Assessment of injuries sustained in mixed martial arts competition. American Journal of Orthopedics, 39(5), 247-251.
Notes for an address by Dr. Eugene Bereza, Chair, Committee on Ethics, Canadian Medical Association : Bill C-6 (An act respecting assisted human reproduction) : Presentation to the Senate Standing Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology
My name is Dr. Eugene Bereza. I am a physician and clinical ethicist at McGill University Health Centre in Montreal and Chair of the Canadian Medical Association’s Committee on Ethics. I am accompanied today by Dr. Jeff Blackmer, our Director of Ethics.
I am here today representing the CMA, but I would also like to advocate on behalf of those patients affected by infertility and those patients suffering, or who will suffer, from the myriad diseases for which medical science is searching out a cure.
While there has been considerable debate over the past decade on the moral and ethical issues associated with assisted human reproduction, discussion of this as a health issue has been overlooked all to often.
We must remember this is about the practice of medicine and above all, the health of Canadians.
My remarks today will focus on the inappropriateness of using criminal sanctions to deal with medical and scientific activities.
It is important to make it clear at the outset that the CMA does not oppose the prohibition of certain medical and scientific activities.
Others here today are in a better position to address concerns regarding the specific prohibitions proposed under Bill C-6.
Our issue is the means chosen to give effect to these prohibitions and their potential impact on the ability of a physician to ensure the welfare of his or her patients.
Criminal law is a blunt instrument. As parliamentarians, you know how difficult it can be to change the law.
For some activities prohibited under the criminal law, such as murder and theft, change is not an issue. However, the science of medicine evolves constantly, doubling every 18-24 months.
Advances in science and medical practice, coupled with the difficulty of anticipating new developments, make it difficult to adjust the law to remove criminal prohibitions as science and society changes.
In the context of prohibiting medical and scientific activities, it is the CMA’s position that the use of criminal law is inappropriate, as it would ultimately not serve our patient’s best interests.
Prohibitions, specifically those listed as prohibited activities under Bill C-6, (formerly Bill C-13) could be secured through much less drastic means than criminalization.
The CMA proposes that the determination of permissible activities, temporarily or for the longer-term, should be made by the proposed Regulatory Agency working with up-to-date scientific information while providing for public input and ethical review.
The Regulatory Agency, as proposed in the Bill, would determine if and when changes in health and safety considerations, public attitudes and values might justify allowing certain formerly prohibited activities to take place under specific conditions.
Questions to Consider
Bill C-6 begins with the statement: “This enactment prohibits assisted reproduction procedures that are considered to be ethically unacceptable.” However, many Canadians, especially those who are infertile, do not consider some or all of these procedures to be ethically unacceptable nor do the many physicians charged with their care.
The CMA questions whether criminal prohibitions are appropriate for dealing with activities about which there is considerable ethical disagreement among Canadians.
Legislators in Canada have been justifiably reluctant to use criminal law to deal with medical and scientific issues such as abortion, withdrawal of life-sustaining treatment and the conduct of medical research.
Why is an exception being made for assisted reproduction?
What sort of precedent will this set for other controversial bioethical issues?
What about the chilling effect criminalization will have on research in this important area?
For the CMA, the most important question is: what about the patients?
What about patients suffering from conditions for which research is banned but may lead to a cure?
Should they be denied the opportunity to benefit from this research?
Just as Bill C-6 unfairly targets patients, so too does the Bill’s penalties for infractions.
Jail terms of up to 10 years and fines up to $500,000 will create a climate of fear and excessive caution for physicians and scientists working in this area.
The chill created by these penalties will be such that scientists may well avoid any activity potentially covered by the bill even to the detriment of patient care.
The CMA recognizes the good faith among parliamentarians in proposing statutory bans to prohibit certain activities.
However, we are convinced in this case the potential for harm outweighs the potential benefits.
There is a better way to prohibit these activities while still facilitating important research and necessary treatments.
An Alternative Solution
Instead of instituting criminal prohibitions within the legislation, the CMA suggest the Assisted Human Reproduction Agency of Canada manage procedures deemed permissible by moving the procedures listed under “Prohibited Activities” to “Controlled Activities.” We recommend that criminal sanctions apply to breaches of agency directives such as performing activities prohibited by the agency and performing controlled activities without a license.
Such an approach would have the dual advantage of being able to both prohibit activities deemed unethical while still providing the flexibility to ensure legitimate medical and scientific progress in the treatment of infertility.
The regulatory agency should be established as soon as possible and should build on the experience and expertise of existing assisted reproduction organizations and structures that deal with practice standards, education, certification and accreditation.
The CMA’s overriding concern in addressing this legislation is the well-being of patients, in this case patients who are infertile and patients afflicted by conditions for which medical research offers significant promise of treatment.
We support government efforts to regulate assisted human reproduction and related activities, including the prohibition of certain practices temporarily or permanently where necessary.
However, we do not believe that criminalization of medical and scientific activities named in the bill is an appropriate way to achieve those objectives. We believe we have advanced a workable alternative within the spirit of the Bill.