Last week, University of Pennsylvania bioethicist Jonathan Moreno wrote a guest post on Jonathan Cohn’s blog at The New Republic, which focused on the implications of a new test that identifies if you will develop Alzheimer’s disease even while you are still robustly healthy. The catch is that there is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s. In a sense, finding out that you would be developing Alzheimer’s and knowing that there is no cure for it would be something like knowing when–or at least how–you were going to die. That kind of knowledge has a way of ruining your day in perpetuity.
While I titled this entry “Ignorance is Bliss,” Moreno writes that
“sometimes, knowledge really is power. And while some people might use the knowledge to contemplate assisted suicide, years in the future, most would probably use the test simply because they feel the need to have some control–the chance to plan sensibly for the time they have, the opportunity to put their affairs in order, to re-focus their lives on what is really important to them. There are, and will be, clinical trials for new treatments: People might take the test so that, if they test positive for Alzheimer’s, they can sign up for them–both to contribute to medical science and to preserve a sense of hope. Some might undertake dietary and other lifestyle changes that seem to delay or lessen the symptoms….One benefit of the tests: Enabling more long-term studies of the benefits of lifestyle modifications.”
This isn’t the first test for an incurable disease. A test for the debilitating and ultimately deadly Huntington’s Disease has been around for quite some time. But the question really is this: Would you take a test to identify whether or not you had or would develop a progressively debilitating terminal illness that could not be cured? Why or why not? Please comment.