Going into predictive health with eyes wide open

Substitute employer for parent, combine that with the findings population studies are pointing us toward, and you have a recipe for a health Gestapo emerging from Emory and Tech research, making us mere Frankenstein monsters, scientific experiments in longevity controlled by our betters.

Emory and Georgia Tech logosWhen I chose to attend the Predictive Health Institute symposium this week at Emory University, I feared an Orwellian nightmare.

Combining knowledge of your personal genome, population studies, and a desire for efficiency among all those paying into the health care system -- government, employers, parents -- it is easy for the press to see the implications.

Given what experts like Dr. Helen Hobbs find themselves advocating -- a calorie-restrictive diet without fats or meat, and the physical labors of rural China to fight heart disease -- the opportunities for coercion are obvious.

As a parent who has watched other parents, and seen too much parental advice, it's also obvious that coercion is far more politically-attractive than Americans seem to think it is.

Substitute employer for parent, combine that with the findings population studies are pointing us toward, and you have a recipe for a health Gestapo emerging from Emory and Tech research, making us mere Frankenstein monsters, scientific experiments in longevity controlled by our betters.

So while settling into my seat at the Emory Conference Center, 150 doctors wearing suits and lit by the glow of their laptops in a tiered amphitheater, it was with a sense of foreboding.

But if leadership is exerted by people like Georgia Tech President Wayne Clough, who opened the proceedings, perhaps there will be less to fear.

"Humanities and philosophy professors will be needed" to lead us through the implications of this science, he said. "Political scientists will be needed" to make policy. "Economists will be needed" and on-and-on.

For now, predictive health is mainly a way for these schools to gain money, power and jobs for Georgians, as they say around here. And the leaders of the movement are going into it with eyes wide open to the implications.

Here's hoping they stay that way.

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