If there were a test that could predict when you were likely to die -- of natural causes, that is -- would you take it?
A new patent is spurring discussion of whether or not people would want to take a "death test." (Photo: sirwiseowl/Flickr)
It's not necessarily a new question, but a team of researchers recently filed a patent for a tool that in the next few years could do just this.
Physicists at Lancaster University developed what the U.K.'s Sunday Times calls a "death test." The device, looking like a wristwatch, according to the Times, delivers a laser pulse, which measures the cells (endothelial) lining the body's smallest blood vessels (capillaries), translating it into how quickly a person might be aging. This could then be used with other data to predict an age of natural death.
International Business Times reported Aneta Stefanovska and Peter McClintock of the university leading the development of the test, which could be available to doctors within the next three years.
"I am hoping we will build a database that will become larger and larger, so every person measured can be compared against it. We will then be in a position to tell them the values [that] predict a certain number of years," Stefanovska said, according to the Times.
In 2009, Stefanovska published a study with Alan Bernjak that provided some of the background knowledge to create such a test.
The study detailed "pulse transit time of a wave over a specified distance along a blood vessel," which could then be used to evaluate "arterial distensibility," or how dilated arteries could become.
"We have evaluated the pulse arrival time (PAT) to the capillary bed, through the microcirculation, and have investigated its relationship to the arterial PAT to a fingertip," the study's abstract stated. The research found this PAT correlated with heart rate and age.
So, going back to the question of whether people would want to take such a "death test," Sam Leith for the London Evening Standard said probably not.
"I would say: most of us will not want to know. The knowledge would be dementing. Think of the mid-life crises accelerated and the relationships re-evaluated. Think of the appalling fear," Leith wrote.
But Leith takes it a step further asking will it even be possible to say you'd rather not take such a test in the future.
"But once the technology exists, will it be so simple as to say: I prefer not to? Won’t it come to be seen as the responsible thing for married couples to do so that they can plan against the event of a three-decade widowhood?" Leith wrote.
"And won’t mortgage lenders and insurance companies be within their rights to make taking the test a condition of doing business (or at least make insurance punitively costly for the untested)? Even if they don’t share the results with you, noticing your life insurance premiums have just tripled will give you a disagreeable hint of what they’ve discovered," he continued.
It all presents interesting food for thought.