October 15, 2020

Just about everybody is intrigued by the opportunity to look into their future. Wouldn’t it be fascinating to see your future spouse and children, how your career developed, all the exciting things you did, or how long you lived? But upon further reflection, many realize that what may be revealed may shock them and bring about feelings of hopelessness and despair.

Knowing Our Medical Future

As previously discussed, biomarkers are a critical tool for assessing the current health condition of a patient. But biomarkers can do so much more; they can give us a glimpse into our future health status. What if knowing our molecular profile reveals mutations in BRCA1 or BRCA2 predisposing us to a high chance of developing breast or ovarian cancer? What if you harbored mutations in KRAS gene that have been reported in the development of various colorectal and pancreatic cancers? Probably the classic biomarker for this purpose is the huntingtin gene. Carriers of this gene (whether homogeneous or heterogeneous) are assured of developing Huntington’s disease (HD), a debilitating neurological disorder that results in premature death. By being tested for the presence of the huntingtin gene, you would know for certain that you would develop HD. This knowledge would allow you to plan your future: potentially foregoing having children so as to not risk passing the condition onto your progeny or planning for the expense of long-term medical care.

As believers, our ultimate hope lies in the fact that we will live for eternity in the presence of Christ with resurrected bodies.
But what are the downsides of possessing this knowledge? Some people may find it difficult to enjoy the life they were given. Life may be filled with despair and anxiety as anticipation of the first physical signs of HD consume the mind. Some may never enjoy the blessing of children. Others may become consumed with preparing for the last few years of life during which the ability to function will be severely limited and rapidly declining. As we grapple with our own finitude, we must also be keenly aware that our mortality may end before we experience any of the ill effects of a future condition like HD. Is it better to know or not to know? That is not an easy question to answer.

Spiritual Implications of “Telling the Future” With Biomarkers

Besides preparing physically for a disease-addled future, knowing our future can be spiritually challenging. As believers, our ultimate hope lies in the fact that we will live for eternity in the presence of Christ with resurrected bodies. In Heaven there will be no more sickness, pain, or suffering. We can also have assurance that God will not give us more than we can bear with his help in this life. While we can rehearse these biblical truths, our flesh sows doubt in our minds that can keep us from trusting God’s purpose for our lives. While bioethicists debate the pros and cons of biomarker testing, each believer needs to evaluate how knowing their future will impact their faith and relationship with Christ.

Tim Veenstra, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor of Pharmacy Science in the Cedarville University School of Pharmacy. Prior to his position at Cedarville University, Dr. Veenstra worked for the National Cancer Institute where his laboratory focused on identification of molecules involved in cancer diagnostics and development.

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