If someone has a terminal condition and the doctor knows how long she has left to live, does the patient have the right to be told? Virtually everyone thinks she does. So why should it be different if that terminal condition is life itself?
One of the most serious concerns is more pragmatic than principled: the worry that insurance companies will refuse to insure those who have drawn the genetic short straw.
This is a real problem, but it’s not a reason to deny people tests that already exists to determine risks of death from some heritable conditions, and nor is it a reason to deny people a more general lifespan test. It is simply a reason for regulating insurance so that the unlucky aren’t left behind.
The trickier question is not political but personal: would it do us any good to take the test? I don’t see why not, as long as the result is clearly understood to be based on probabilities not clairvoyance. So discovering that your body won’t give up of its own accord until your eighty is not a reason to start counting your chickens, but merely a cause for contingency planning, should nothing else get you in the meantime.
If the wick of life is closer to burning out, better you know and start focusing on what really matters before it’s too late. Yes, we should probably all do that anyway. But we would all benefit from a stark reminder that life is short is needed, and it’s better is that comes earlier from a test kit than later from an all-too late diagnosis of an illness that has already started to do its worst.
Julian Baggini’s latest book is Ethics: The Big Questions (Quercus)
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