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Now, everybody knows the day and the hour: a little healthcare fantasy

By       Message Peter Barus     Permalink
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When sound-based tools were perfected that could identify lifetime physiological trends with a scanner, even prenatally, the DNA scientists were taken by complete surprise, just as the archaeologists had been when DNA testing knocked their theories of the human geneaology into a cocked hat. The process was based on the fact that every individual human being, and every other living thing for that matter, emits a unique vibratory signature. It was only a matter of a few years of computer assisted data-mining before two high school students worked out most of the correlations to character defects, predispositions to substance abuse, sexual orientation, mathematical genius, artistic gifts, psychokinesis and so on - even being accident-prone. This showed the genetic theory of disease to be just so much horsefeathers. With pre-diagnosis, even luck could be measured. But of more pressing social importance, as it turned out, everyone learned what they would be most likely to die of. Everyone. And not just what, but when.

Because "pre-diagnosis" required nothing more than an audio scan of a human being, and could be worked from up to half a mile away, entire communities could be scanned by insurance company agents parked in a van on Main Street. Before anybody, even the old blogosphere, could react, it was done. They got everybody. The only rational response to this (if any) from legislators was to make it universally mandatory, to remove any unfair advantages for the few among us who remain anonymous. Medical anonymity was a thing of the past; now it became a misdemeanor. The only option offered was knowing your personal span. Like knowing the sex of an unborn baby, some folks just don't want to know. Go figure.

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Pre-diagnosis is 97% certain. That three percent is just about accounted for by fatal accidents caused by texting-while-driving. Soon statisticians and actuaries identified all the "hot spots," areas downwind of toxic dumps and factories that showed unmistakable spikes in various cancers, birth anomalies and infertility. There were no legal repercussions for those who had perpetrated this horror. "Who knew?" became the standard defense, and it worked mostly because there were so many class-action cases that "tort reform" was finally passed, just to save the court system from meltdown.

Pre-diagnosis worked more or less like stupidity in its patterns of distribution. The Second Law of Human Stupidity* states that:

"The probability that a certain person be stupid is independent of any other characteristic of that person."

A corollary is that there is no way to predict the percentage of stupid people in any group. Exactly the same way, a person's scan results follow no discernible pattern. It wasn't long before people began to realize that death i is no respecter of class or connection. People whose likely cause of death was "natural causes", that sweet death at around a hundred from just wearing out all at once like in the old poem, "The Wonderful One-Horse Shay", found that their cohorts included alcoholics, homeless people, liberals, conservatives, communists, trillionaires, con artists and neocons. People pre-diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's or Leukemia included rising stars of progressive social movements, inventors of breakthrough medical and electronic machines, and sadistic prison guards.

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It just wasn't fair.

Children slated to contract diseases that cut them off before puberty were lavished with giant stuffed bunnies, trips to Disney Planet, lifetime supplies of hot fudge sundaes, and permanent get-out-of-school passes. One eight-year-old was quoted as saying, "Geeez, I hate ice cream, can't I have broccoli like the other kids?" Busloads of doomed people barely old enough to know about Santa Claus criss-crossed the country fulfilling the last wishes of their distraught parents.

The insurance industry was taken aback as much as everyone else. At first they saw a goldmine in being able to sell accident policies to people expected (otherwise) to live to a ripe old age. There was, however, a lot of resistance to this scheme, since many people (see to Cipolla's Law above) thought that their pre-diagnosis was a reliable prediction of semi-immortality, and gleefully canceled all their policies. Many from this group began bungee jumping with kite string and such adrenalin-pumping pursuits.

Then it began to dawn that the whole myth about how insurors were taking "risks" was shot to hell. The only risk involved had always been the only risk involved, except that now the rubes could see it: the only risk the insurance companies ever had taken was the risk that somebody would actually qualify for the payments to which their policies entitled them, quite a feat considering today's micro-font contracts. Now that's out the window, since everybody now has a fatal pre-existing condition. This led to the near collapse of the already moribund economy and ended the political careers of two-thirds of the Senators and Congresspersons in Washington, D.C. when their campaign funding dried up overnight. There were even bizarre lawsuits by insurance giants in forlorn hope of getting some of it back.

Then there was the drug industry. The implications of the discovery that disease seemed to be written into people's hard drives (or at least, not in their DNA) at birth had unforseen impacts on an industry that existed because its products supposedly affected health in the ways they claimed. Even though physicians had always known that about 75% of sick people get well regardless of anything they tried, people had believed that the pills advertised on TV were magic and hounded their doctors to prescribe all the latest ones for combating sadness, gravity, tragedy, ennui and, well, life. And these nostrums did have effects. A lump of dirt will work wonders if you really, really believe it will. And there is the selective input effect: we don't hear about dolphins pushing sailors away from shore, so we think these wild animals like us. That about sums up the drug industry's relationship to health.

Suddenly, nobody thought they needed drugs. Well, with exceptions: the substance-abuse crowd was as regular as ever, but supposedly, those drugs were not made or sold by the industry, so they didn't affect the "legitimate" economy. They remain one of the few functioning economies now. Prescription drugs were another matter. The resulting collapse took care of another third of Congress; and gosh, that's three thirds. Oh well.

The funeral business picked up a little, since they could now do projections based on some actual data for once. Diversification and innovation swept the industry. "Pre-Need" sales morphed into elaborate one-way travel packages to exotic locations based on the idea that you could gamble on the state of the economy when you were about to punch out and lock in a price, um, to die for. This made Sunset Planning fun. A popular bumper-sticker read, against a background of palm trees and surf: "Screw the kids, I'm blowing it all on my pre-funeral!"

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But the thing that really put the last nail in the coffin of capitalism was the trouble with state lotteries. It turned out that pre-diagnostics could also identify, with an astonishing degree of precision, not only who was likely to win, but when and how much. When this was revealed, one precious illusion was saved: pre, pre-diagnostics, it really had been a matter of purest dumb luck who won. Nobody gamed the system, it was actually a fair game of chance, though odds were heavily stacked. Except as random and capricious as Lady Luck had been in distributing her bounty, we now know which of us are the lucky ones. Game over.

Now that things have straightened out some, and the whole story has come out, it's interesting to see how the addition of just one element of undeniable truth, a tiny increment of reality that could not be spun, swept under rugs or bought off, brought the whole twenty-first century house of cards down. Once every person had that one single irrevocable possession, a lifespan, capitalism just didn't work anymore.

Now we have universal health care, and they call you a couple of weeks ahead of the onset of your fell disease to start palliative care. The healthcare infrastructure is little more than simple regional care centers, and they're expecting you. There are no heroics beyond surgeries that actually work, with cloned organ replacements, etc. Of course, the pre-diagnosis still works after you've had your major organs re-grown - when your time's up, it's up, that's all.

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I'm an old Pogo fan. For some unknown reason I persist in outrage at Feudalism, as if human beings can do much better than this. Our old ways of life are obsolete and are killing us. Will the human race wake up in time? Stay tuned...

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