Our blood knows our secrets and foretells our health.  Sometimes we’re told the now of the being of our bloodstream — high cholesterol, bad thyroid, liver complications — but what if our blood could tell us today, how we’ll end up in the future?  Would you want your blood to tell your longevity status?  Or would you prefer to live only in the now?

The tests measure telomeres, which are structures on the tips of chromosomes that shorten as people age. Various studies have shown that people with shorter telomeres in their white blood cells are more likely to develop illnesses like cancer, heart disease and Alzheimer’s disease, or even to die earlier. Studies in mice have suggested that extending telomeres lengthens lives.

Seizing on that, laboratories are beginning to offer tests of telomere length, setting off a new debate over what genetic tests should be offered to the public and what would be the ethical implications if the results were used by employers or others.  Some of the laboratories offering the tests emphasize that the results are merely intended to raise a warning flag.

On November 19, 2007, I wrote — 23andMe and the Ticking Timebomb Within — that dealt with the inevitable use of a person’s DNA against them in order to predict future risk:

What are the dangers and advantages of 23andMe? Will this sort of genetic testing be mandatory for future government support or for continuing insurance coverage or as an admissions standard for prep schools and universities?

Should this sort of human genome project ever be a privatized for-profit venture — Anne Wojcicki, wife of Google co-founder Sergey Brin heads up the effort and Google invested in the company — or should our DNA and genetic secrets be released free-of-charge into a world database for disinterested inspection by anyone and everyone without having to first pay a fee for a look-see into the demise of our private tomorrows?

Does our blood privately belong to us, or does it publicly belong to the State and our employers?  Won’t the government want a say in providing for future healthcare by first taking a look at our blood statistics, BMI and 23andMe results before approving any life-extending therapies?

Can the right to privacy extend beyond the bedroom and into the bloodstream?


  1. Some of the laboratories offering the tests emphasize that the results are merely intended to raise a warning flag.

    I think that is indicative that this is certainly no crystal ball guaranteeing anything in a person’s future and so the government would be wrong to make use of any speculative information from it to take any real action.

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