Printed: 2020-08-06

Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies





IEET Link: https://ieet.org/index.php/IEET/more/pellissier20111208

How will you (probably) decay and die?

Hank Pellissier


Ethical Technology




December 08, 2011

Genetic testing may have the answers.


Curious about how you might eventually croak? (If the Singularity, SENS, or cryonics can’t save you…) Dying to know what maladies will ambush you?

Wondering… 

  • will your death be an aneurysm while you’re driving, descending a steep street with grandchildren screaming behind you? 
  • will you float fuzzily into a clueless Alzheimer’s fog, cruelly exiled from all sweet memories?
  • will you get annihilated by a cancer that eats seven organs?
  • or maybe get jumped by that awful Parkinson’s disease that jerked away your favorite uncle?

grI wanted to scrutinize, in advance, the coroner’s report on my extinction. 

I wanted to learn how I’m supposed to die, because I don’t like surprises. Plus, ideally, if I’m educated about my genetic proclivities, I can make sly decisions that will help me elude the Grim Reaper. 

That’s why I paid a genetic testing company to hack into my future.

23andMe.com happily analyzed the chromosomal tendencies in my spittle for 100+ diseases, traits, and DNA ancestry, at a price that didn’t kill me: just $99 plus $9 a month for one year.

The first part—writing the check, drooling copiously into a vial, mailing it off to Mountain View, California—was easy. 

The second part—waiting six weeks for results—was tough. More than enough time to imagine all the different varieties of horrible news. 

The last, forward-to-the-future part—logging in to read my verdict—was heart-palpitatingly scary.  

It’s like a trial where you know your punishment is death, but you don’t know the method of torture and execution, nor precisely when the sentence will be exacted.

When the lab work was finished, 23andMe.com emailed me a password that provided online access to all my intimate diagnoses and forecasts. I hesitated before consulting the oracle, before diving into the potentially wretched data…
 
Slowly my clammy, trembling fingers typed toward the terrifying info… my darting eyes scanned the “Elevated Risks” category… Yes, yes, huh? Ohhh…

Ohhh… I soaked in the gestalt of my condition… How did I feel?  

Relieved! Not overjoyed, but, all-in-all, I viewed my fast-approaching medical prognosis as… acceptable. 

It could certainly be considerably worse than it was, more humiliating and painful.
 
After examining the few infirmities in my “Elevated Risks” category, my exit from mortality seems to be this:

I’ll contract Celiac Disease, then I [possibly] will go blind later in life due to Exfoliation Glaucoma, before [probably] kicking the bucket via Coronary Heart Disease, [perhaps] caused by Atrial Fibrillation.

Whew! I’ll take it! I skipped right through Elizabeth Kubler Ross’s first four stages and settled comfortably into “Acceptance.”

Why? Because here’s what I’ll [probably] escape due to my “Decreased Risk” in these disorders:

Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, gallstones, psoriasis, arthritis, bi-polarism, schizophrenia, and lung, thyroid, testicle, throat, larynx, kidney, stomach, melanoma, and prostrate cancer. 

The only Big C where I have even slightly Elevated Risk is colorectal— and I’ll stomp that with kefir, sauerkraut, and regular colonoscopies that snip those rude polyps in their cute little buds.

I do have other weaknesses, for example, I have very meager resistance to malaria, tuberculosis, and leprosy… but those plights are non-epidemic in North Beach. 

All in all, I’m swallowing my sentence buoyantly… I was born lucky!  

How about you? Feeling fortunate? Are you brave enough to find out your fate, like Oedipus with his pestering questions of the blind prophet Tiresias?

After settling the small matter of my probable death, I gleefully explored who I really am via the dozens of non-lethal traits that genetics uncovers. 

I wasn’t shocked to find out that I’m “Taste-Blind” because I can devour anything, like a hyena. But it was weird learning that my “dry” ear wax resembles an Asian’s, even though my lineage is a boring 100% Northern European. 

Why doesn’t my bloodstream have some sexy drops of Gypsy, Iroquois, or African? My forefathers were so parochial, I fumed—until I realized that I continued the provincial mating, myself, when I married a Welsh woman.

Any Stud News?

Yes! I have alpha-actinin-3 in my “fast-twitch muscle fiber,” the same genotype as “many world class sprinters.” I also have “decreased sensitivity to pain.” Arrrgh! Bring it on! Plus, I don’t have to worry about my arteries clogging immediately—my chances of a heart attack in the next decade is only a measly 7%.

Ugly Wimpy News?

Uh-huh… My increasing baldness is inevitable, I don’t have any resistance to HIV/AIDS, my urine stinks after eating asparagus, and I’m slightly at-risk for obesity, diabetes, and alcoholism. 

Most amusing is my glitch in dopamine signaling, in my posterior medial frontal cortex, due to “rs1800497.” This makes me “much less efficient at learning to avoid errors.” Basically, this translates as: I’m incapable of learning from my mistakes.

Ha! What an excellent excuse!

More good news: I get a 3.4-point gain in non-verbal IQ due to genotype AA in rs363050, plus I have 20% better-than-average short-term memory due to CT genotype in rs17070145. 

Unfortunately, that advantage is wiped out because I wasn’t breast-fed. I suffer a 6.5 point IQ loss because my CC genotype in rs174575 wanted to utilize Mom’s fatty acids, but alas… I was formula-fed.

Excuse me? Way too much info? Sorry to share so intimately. My attainment of self-chromosomal knowledge is truly exhilarating. 

I also apologize if this essay seems self-indulgent… but... I do have a theme, a point to make, a social policy I want to propose. 

spHere it is: I strongly suggest that everyone get genetically tested, at an early age.

Why? It’s amazing to me now that, just yesterday, I knew so little about myself, about my Achilles’ heels and my super-powers. If I had this knowledge a half-century ago, I could have had practical dreams.
 
As a young lad I desired to be an explorer, but… yikes! Chromosomally, I’m a sissy in the tropical wild; I’d have died coughing in a jungle hut, or digit-less in a leper colony. 

But… maybe… I… “coulda been a contender” in sprinting with my superior muscle-twitch fiber! Except, of course, I wouldn’t have responded to coaching due to that allele that renders me uneducable. Etc. Etc.

I bought my wife membership in 23andMe.com for her birthday. She says it’s the least romantic present she’s ever gotten (but if she’s scheduled to contract Alzheimer’s she won’t even remember).


Universal Genetic Testing. We need it. Imagine how the world would improve:

  • Insurance providers would establish appropriate, pin-pointing checkups for each individual.
  • Everyone’s longevity would increase because we’d adopt lifestyles that would circumvent our specific impairments. 
  • Romantic couples would share genotype charts with each other, to determine if they’d breed robust offspring. 
  • And maybe, maybe, maybe—I would have been breast-fed! Or, at least, bottle-fed with the real stuff.

That simple, succulent detail, alone, would have given me enough extra smarts… to give this essay a far superior ending.


Hank Pellissier serves as IEET Managing Director and is an IEET Affiliate Scholar.

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