“Would You Find Out?”

I just finished a recent(2022) novel, The Measure by Nikki Erlick based on an intriguing premise. One evening every citizen on earth twenty-two or older receives a box with a piece of string in it. The string’s length tells the recipient how long their life will be. Some people look inside the box; others don’t. I found the premise more interesting than the novel, though it is entertaining. But it began a reflection of my own.

A friend in college lost her mother to Huntington’s disease. Here it is often referred to as the illness that took singer/writer/activist Woody Guthrie. This fatal neurological illness gradually destroys the brain in an cascade of devastating symptoms. The disease typically shows up in middle age. Although it is hereditary, a person may not know they carry the gene for the disease until they have already had children. My friend devoted her life to a study of the gene resulting in, among other things, a test to determine a carrier. Out of an abundance of caution she chose to be childless since the odds of passing on the gene are 50/50. She also chose to forgo the test. She chose to live with the uncertainty that brought.

Sometimes people are given a diagnosis that suggests a future length of life. Still, it is much less certain than either the Huntington’s test or the piece of string in The Measure. I put myself in the place of the characters in the novel and the situation of my friend. I have decided I would neither look at the string nor take the test. I prefer living each day as it comes, trusting the end is out of my control.

What would you do?

24 thoughts on ““Would You Find Out?”

  1. Betsy, I would rather not know, at this point, age 76. Earlier in my life, maybe the same, not having had or desired children.



  2. That’s a difficult question to answer. On one hand, I would like to know so I could do everything I wanted before the appointed time, but I feel I would always be counting down, fixated on the date.


  3. It seems better to live one’s life to the full, without limitation or preconceived notions of longevity or illness. After all, no one really knows what the future holds. On the other hand, I’m such a curious person, I wonder if I could overcome the temptation if it were actually put before me.


  4. My first mother-in-law developed Huntington’s Disease when she was 52 years old. She died six years later, after falling out of bed in hospital and breaking her hip and pelvis. To watch the decline in her mental health was heartbreaking, and devastating for the family. My wife didn’t have a test, as we did not plan to have children. When she remarried later, she had a child with her second husband, and I never knew if she was tested. I suspect she ‘took her chances’, she was an adventurous woman.
    Best wishes, Pete.


  5. When our son was some months, we came to know he had retinitis Pigmentosa. But we decided to have a second child. Thank God we took that decision 🥰 . Many a time we have to take decisions but I would take them based on our thoughts and not on what someone else says. Regards, Lakshmi


  6. I first thought about this question when a colleague of mine did a DNA test many years ago. They sent back the usual information, and an envelope that said something like “Potentially distressing information in here.” I wouldn’t want to know, quite franky. But I also know my impulse control is bad. So in all likelihood I would open it, then feel terrible and worried for years to come. Better to just skip the test entirely, I think.


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