Telomere Testing

Criticism, Controversy & Ethical Questions

If the assumption is made that telomere testing will one day be accurate, reliable and accessible to the general public, many legal, ethical and personal questions may arise.

First, reactions to the test itself will depend on the information it yields. Will it pinpoint how many years remain in a lifetime? Will it reveal the likely onset of a disease? Will it be a useful evaluation of overall health, which gives the person a valuable lifestyle guide going forward?

When it comes to the most important question—"How many years do I have left?"—it's reasonable to assume that many people will not take the test because they don't want to know the results. The knowledge of lifetime remaining has a limited upside because most people already hope or expect to live a long life ("Okay, I have another 30 years. Cool. I need to get back to the office now."). However, it has a potentially catastrophic downside ("The test reveals you have 2 years left in your life."). With so much downside risk, many are likely to avoid the test altogether.

For those who do take the test, they may see the results and ask themselves:

"Now that I know I'm going to die in 9 years..."

Telomere testing may also give rise to significant legal and ethical issues:

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