September 26, 2022

A test for Alzheimer’s will be very disruptive

If an easy diagnostic test for Alzheimer’s Disease is developed, how would this affect people’s lives?

In 2009 Judge Karen Williams, chief judge on the US Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit who was a potential Supreme Court nominee,  discovered that she was one of the 1% of Alzheimer cases which develops before 60. She resigned immediately lest the reasoning of her decisions be questioned.

If an easy diagnostic test for Alzheimer’s Disease is developed, how would this affect people’s lives? Hank Greely, the head of the Stanford Center for Law and the Biosciences and the new Stanford Program in Neuroscience and Society, makes some interesting forecasts in the Neuroethics Blog. He says that such a test is unlikely to become available soon, but sooner or later it could be. We should be prepared.

Insurance discrimination: if a test could predict AD, insurance companies might refuse to cover people for disability. 

Politics: President Ronald Reagan was diagnosed with AD shortly after leaving office. To keep a president with AD from running the country, voters might demand to know candidates’ test results. Candidates for the Supreme Court, which is a life-long appointment, might have to present their test results before they are confirmed.

Family dynamics. If their parents test positive, children might want to get control of their financial affairs. Parents might contemplate suicide long before the disease takes hold.

As Greely points out, these issues already exist with genetic diseases like Huntington’s Disease. But HD is rare and AD will affect between 10 and 15% of the population. A test could be extremely disruptive. 

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