Why I don’t want to know if I’m going to get dementia

Posted on: 17 September 2010 by Jo Waters

Predictive testing for Alzheimer’s and other diseases opens up a whole can of worms. Maybe it’s better to just not know, argues Jo Waters

DementiaResearchers have developed a low-cost test that can accurately predict if you are at risk from Alzheimer’s disease over the course of the next 10 years. High levels of a particular protein can be an early sign of the disease and scientists are developing a simple blood test which will be able to detect it a decade before you have any symptoms.

Well that's something to look forward to isn't it? I At least you can spend all your money before they make you sell your house to pay for the care home they will put you in eventually.

Yes, I know doctors are saying early detection is good and you can take drugs to slow down progression of the disease. There's still no cure, though, is there?

I'm sure if most Alzheimer's patients had known 10 years before that they were going to have dementia and not even recognise their nearest and dearest, they would have booked a one way ticket to the Dignitas Clinic at the first sign of forgetting where they put their keys.

It's not just dementia that we'll be able to get some advance warning about either. New genetic tests for heart disease, cancer and a whole host of other conditions are becoming available. Your genes are a ‘crystal ball’ that can tell you what particular afflictions your family tree makes you susceptible to. Clever stuff, I’m sure, but does anyone actually want to know if they have a ‘genetic curse’?

I can see that it would be immensely reassuring if you were given a clean bill of health, especially if you have a disease like breast cancer in your family. But what if it’s not good news?

Won’t it put a bit of a dampener on your retirement party if you know for certain that within a few years you won’t have the mental capacity to tell the time on the gold carriage clock they all clubbed together to buy you?

Call me old fashioned but what’s wrong with just getting on with living your life and enjoying it without worrying about the future has in store for you? Life is short and these genetic tests cast a long, dark shadow over what should be some of the best years of your life.

Am I alone in finding this obsession with what our genes may have in store of us utterly repellent? Doesn’t it seem horribly intrusive and smack of Brave New World?

What will happen in the future? Will those of us with sub-standard genes be “phased out” and our offspring encouraged not to breed? And what will happen to you if sensitive information falls into the wrong hands? Will private health insurers pay for insider information on would-be clients or even demand full genetic screening before they agree to insure you? Will financial institutions ask for genetic tests before they agree to that 25 year mortgage application you’re hoping they will approve?  I hope not.

Genetic testing is a can of worms and once again the scientists are running with the ball before the ethics have been properly thought through. Sometimes it really is better not to know what’s around the corner.

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