Would You Want To Know When You'll Die?

by Conor Friedersdorf

This Reason teaser gets at a fascinating question:

In 1998, a panel of eminent bioethicists convened at Stanford University said that most women should not take the new test for the BRCA-1 and BRCA-2 breast cancer genes. As Boston University bioethicist George Annas explained, "Since there is no way to prevent this disease, what good is knowing you will probably get it in the future?"

This may be a common view among bioethicists, notes Science Correspondent Ronald Bailey, but it is still wrong. As genetic tests become more readily available, researchers can identify people who are at higher risk of falling ill earlier, and enroll them in studies to uncover how the disease progresses. And the people who take the tests can use the information to help plan their futures. There's plenty of good in that.

I tend to agree with Bailey – lots of people would decide they don't want these tests, which is their right, but it ought to be a patient choice. On a related subject, it seems to me that these kinds of innovations are going to lay bear the long term untenability of using traditional insurance to cover health care.