It begins often somewhere between the ages of 35-44 with jerky, random, uncontrollable movements called chorea. In time, the brain begins to malfunction. Even more pervasive than mere dementia, abilities to make decisions, computations and abstract thinking diminish over time. The brain is failing. Neurons are being destroyed permanently. Within about 20 years of onset, the patient will be dead from pneumonia, heart disease or suicide. The disease is called Huntington’s. There is no cure and no significant treatment available. The disease can be managed but death is inevitable.
Most of us have no risk of contracting this malady since it is transmitted genetically. African Americans and Asians have a very small chance. Western Europeans have the highest prevalence (about 7 cases per 100,000 people.) If one of your parents has the gene you have a 50% chance of developing Huntington’s. In 1993 a test was developed which could determine with near certainty whether an at risk individual would contract the disease. If you were at risk, would you take the test?
When I first heard this question my immediate answer was: of course! I would want to know if my useful life span was not likely to exceed 40 years. Such a sword hanging over my head would focus my thinking. How many years do I waste pursuing a post graduate degree? Do I marry? Should I have children and risk passing down the mutated gene to them? On the other hand, if I don’t take the test, wouldn’t that create a cloud of anxiety that followed me around like the Peanuts character ‘Pig Pen?’ The answer to these questions I realized depends on your world view.
If you believe that you are a random accident of the evolutionary process with no other purpose than survival for as long as possible, then if you take the test and you know that Huntington’s is inevitable, live as selfishly as possible. Party hearty for by age 40 you die! Why accomplish anything? It won’t matter anyway since no one will remember you in 100 years and your genetic line has been marked for disposal by the evolutionary process. As always I am aghast to recognize that this putrid explanation for the purpose of human life now dominates American thinking and education.
On the other hand, if you believe that you are created by God for this moment and place in human history to develop an eternal relationship with Him and others, then even a brief life has purpose. Not even an hour of existence on earth is wasted and every moment matters. We all have Huntington’s. All of us are going to die and few of us have any idea when that might be. In Christ, we are called to live each day purposefully since we don’t know how long we will be around.
Be grateful for every useful day.
Philippians 121 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. 22 But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose. 23 But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; 24 yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake. NASB
ps: 95% of those who are at risk for Huntington’s do NOT take the genetic test. They prefer to live like the rest of us and not know for certain what tomorrow brings. Also there is no treatment or cure, so why bother? I see their point.