Saturday, February 9, 2013

Would you want to know?  Do you want to know when you are expected to die?  There are more than 1,000 genetic tests available to look at everything from baldness to breast cancer and the list is growing but do you really want to know what will eventually kill you?  People that know when they will die may have problems with insurance though genetic discrimination is illegal.  Would you want to know if there was a 50-50 chance you would die from a disease that there is no cure ?

Is the burden of not knowing greater than the burden of knowing?  There is nothing like ignorant bliss.  Maybe I don't want to know.  That knowledge some scientists say could ruin your life now.  For instance, James Watson one of the discoverers of the structure of DNA had his own genetic makeup mapped and asked not to be told if he is a higher risk for Alzheimer's Disease.  If I would be told that I have an increased risk of getting a terrible disease, that can weigh on my mind and make me anxious, and every ache and pain would make me feel like it is the beginning of the end. Every time I couldn't find my car in a parking lot would make me feel like it is the beginning of the end.
Tests have been done by researchers that proved that most people can handle the information given them good or bad. Yes, bad information about their future.  Most just compile a bucket list of things they always wanted to do before they died.  There is just a increased focus on getting it done.  There was a poll where 58% of people said they would want to know if they were a carrier of an incurable disease.  Now, when faced with incurable diseases like eye cancer they are classifying patients into 2 classes. 

There are doctors that are treating ocular melanoma cancers that have developed new genetic tests that divide patients into 2 classes of survivability; Class 1 and Class 2.  Class 1 cancer cells still act like normal cells and can be killed.  In Class 2, the cells have been mutated and begun to spread throughout the body.  There is no cure for Class 2.  So, now if you ask your doctor if this disease can kill you, now there is a more precise answer.

In the emergency room doctors are used to hearing that question, am I going to live or die but usually under the extreme conditions of an accident, there isn't much time to reflect on that question.  Even if a patient is told they have a 50-50 chance of living or dieing, patients want to know so that they can modify their life in preparing for death. Then all can be in a good place with no regrets when the time comes for death.  Or, if there is no cure, should knowing your fate be any good?

What you know can hurt you in other ways.  People who are at higher risk for disease and know it may have that problem I mentioned with insurance.  Still, for most there is no such thing as ignorant bliss.  A woman died from Huntington's disease of which there is no cure when she was in her forties.  Her teen age daughter had to witness her decline and ultimate death.  A memory no child should have to endure but her curiosity compelled her to know if she was destined to have the same horrible death.

Dramatic moments like these of not knowing what a 50-50 chance will bring you is compelling. More and more people are now willing to pour lots of money into research to find the answers to our future.  It is amazing that we can remember things we did when we were small children and all throughout our lives but we can not see one moment into our future.  Should we even be this curious about the future?  There was $5 Billion dollars spent on Genetic testing in 2010.  In the next decade that number is expected to rise to $25 Billion dollars in the year 2021. 

In about 10 years from now it would be unthinkable not to have your gene history as a resource for your own health.  It is estimated that most people will take advantage of this new knowledge about themselves and it will be as common as getting your blood pressure checked.  We all know that no genetic test can ever replace the power of hope.  So, If there was a test to tell you how long you'll live, would you take it?  32% of you said yes and 65% said no the rest could care less.  When I die I'm dead.

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