Monday, April 30, 2007

Avoiding the Death Clock

A few weeks ago I heard on NPR that geneticists and actuaries have joined forces and are now fairly close to being able to predict with surprising accuracy the very year during which a person will die. That's right. By calculating all the "factors" and looking very closely at your genes, science has finally figured out how to predict the future—at least when it comes to death—and for some this is exciting news.

The scientist being interviewed seemed to think that this knowledge, if it is possible to truly predict with any accuracy, is somehow information that should not be withheld from the public. Yes, we all have the right to know exactly when we will die so we can plan our lives accordingly. "Perhaps," he commented, "if you found out in your 20s that you were going to die of cancer in your 40s, you might not go to law school or spend ten years getting that Ph.D. Instead you might become a crewman on a carribean cruise ship for the rest of your days."

The interview got me to thinking. Setting aside all of the philosophical and theological questions about the right and wrong of even presuming to claim to have the ability to make such predictions, I wondered, would I want to know the year in which I would most likely (according to statistics) see my glorious end?

After about 3 seconds of rumination I knew the answer was decidedly no.

I recently had my wisdom teeth removed and was in a panic for weeks leading up to the big scary day. Imagine, then, how obsessive I would become if I knew I was going to die from some terrible disease in 2047? That would give me, let's see, 40 years to worry about my final expiration. Not to mention the fact that the shadow of my impending doom would be the deciding factor for everything in life. No, I think I'll stick with letting life lead the way, and keep myself in the dark about the exact date of my demise. And when it happens, I can stand before God and say "Surprise! I'm here!"--and I'll be the one surprised.


Al Hsu said...

Good thoughts. I think the best "death clock" is Psalm 90 - our days are 70 years, 80 if we have the strength. Maybe more, maybe less, but that feels like a good ballpark to me. So barring unexpected tragedy, I'll just hope to lead a life well lived between now and then.

And BTW, I'm a genetic mutant and one of the 5% of the population that doesn't get wisdom teeth! Some years back they X-rayed my head and told me that I wouldn't ever have any coming in.

Stacey said...

No way, Al. Me too - no wisdom teeth in my head. I think it's grand.

As far as knowing when I die, maybe it would be kind of nice to have the grand scheme. Be able to plan those days. I'm sure that's somehow a lack of trust, but the idea makes me go hmmm...

Craver Vii said...

Well, I got the teeth, but I'm a little shy on wisdom, explain that!

I think I would want to know the day of my passing, if I could. I look forward to it. The only thing I fear is that the process may be unpleasant or undignified.

Who knows, maybe I passed a day that was predicted for me. The story behind that is that there were a couple of bullies in 8th grade...