Want to know how long you will live? - (1/15/2019)

By Dr. Ron Gasbarro

If you could find out how long you would live, would you want to know? That’s the question the pharmacist asked himself when the new machine was delivered. “It can go between the blood pressure booth and the photo center,” he told the delivery guys. The machine works like this: You put a buck into the slot and step inside. The machine then scans you from head to toe and calculates one’s blood pressure, heart rate, blood sugar, brain waves, and other physical parameters. Then, through the magic of nanotechnology – the branch of technology that deals with the manipulation of individual atoms and molecules – it can determine enzyme levels and other biochemicals that keep the old ticker ticking. In other words, the machine can calculate how long a person would live. The results go directly to the pharmacist whose honor it is to tell the person how much time he or she has on this earth, as well as what finally did that person in. 

First, Lester, 67, came into the pharmacy. Willing to drive to the store despite having a “liquid breakfast,” Lester was curious about the machine and asked how long it would take. “About 2 minutes,” replied the pharmacist. Lester stepped into the machine and the door closed. One could hear whirring inside the contraption and then suddenly it was quiet. A piece of paper spewed out from the pharmacist’s receiver. The paper said “68 – DUI car crash.” “I can’t tell Lester that,” the pharmacist thought. “So, Doc, what’s the scoop?” “95, natural causes,” the pharmacist lied. “Terrific!” laughed woozy ole Lester as he staggered to his car and zig-zagged his way home. 

Second, Lynette, 32, was always depressed. She hardly ever had her antidepressant prescription refilled, even though the pharmacist counseled her about taking her pills so she will feel better. She asked the pharmacist about the machine. Lynette put 4 quarters into the slot and stepped inside. More whirring, buzzing, humming. Then silence. “Let me guess,” she said to the pharmacist. “A week from Thursday. Jumped into Niagara Falls.” That comment rattled the pharmacist. “It says 78, helping children escape from a burning building.” “Really?” Lynette said. “At least I will go doing something good. I feel better already.” What the note really said was “32, jumped into Niagara Falls. A week from Thursday.”

Finally, there is Larry, 40. Extremely obese. He eats to feel better about his life. He could barely fit into the machine but he managed to shut the door once he got in. Whir, whir, whiz, whiz. Squeezing his way out of the booth, he was totally out of breath as he approached the pharmacist. “What’s the verdict?” Larry asked. “72, hit by a bus after leaving the gym.” “Wow, I never thought I would make it to 50! I guess going to the gym would be a good idea.” According to the piece of paper that the machine generated, Larry would live to be 42, heart attack. But the pharmacist could not tell him that. 

Should the pharmacist withhold the information given to him regarding his patients? Would knowing when you are going to die enhance your quality of life? Can fate be changed? Would Lester sober up knowing he would live into his 90s? Would Lynette pull her life together knowing she would have a meaningful future? Would Larry lose weight and enjoy the rest of his years as a healthier human?

What if you could find out how long you will live? The pharmacist was tempted to try the machine. But he decided he could not. In fact, the next day, the machine was gone. It had a power that was oddly terrifying and extremely intrusive. What would you do?

Ron Gasbarro, PharmD, is a registered pharmacist, medical writer, and principal at Read more at 


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