Criticism, Controversy & Ethics

If telomere testing one day becomes 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 reveals. Will it reveal the number of years remaining in a person's natural lifetime? Will it reveal the likely onset of a disease? Will it be useful in terms of overall health, providing valuable guidance for a better life?

When it comes to the most important question—"How many years do I have left?"—it's reasonable to assume that many people will avoid the test altogether. The knowledge of life time remaining has a limited upside because most people already hope or expect to live a long life (e.g. a typical post-test reaction may be: "Great, I have another 30 years. I need to get back to work now."). However, the test has a potentially catastrophic downside (e.g., it reveals you have 2 years left). With so much downside risk, many people may avoid a telomere test.

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

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

  • "Do I tell my wife? Do I tell my kids? Do I tell my employer?"
  • "Do I quit my job and start tackling my bucket list?"
  • "Do I spend all my money over the next 9 years?"
  • "Do I start exercising and eating right and try to turn this thing around?"

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

  • Insurance companies may require a telomere test before providing coverage, and may deny coverage or adjust premiums based on the results.
  • Telomere testing may become a pre-condition for employment;
  • All sorts of companies may emerge offering unproven telomere-lengthening elixirs, telomere-arresting potions, or other supposed anti-aging therapies.