The Debate Over the $2,500 Whole-Body Scan Is Tearing Us Apart

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The Great $2,500 Body-Scan DebateGetty Images / Esquire
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A thing you can ask at a party that is guaranteed to get the blood flowing is: "If you could find out the time and manner of your death, would you?"

I go back and forth. Yes, if I found out I'd be dead in six months, of course I would liquidate my (unimpressive) 401(k) and immediately retire to eat drugs on the beach. But what if I knew I was going to die of something normal at the age of 77.8, which is the average age of death for an American woman.

What would you do?

I ask because Kim Kardashian got a full-body scan recently from a company called Prenuvo, which promises "fast, safe, and comprehensive" screenings for all manner of horrible shit. "Prenuvo turns healthcare upside down," says their marketing copy. "Rather than wait for symptoms to present and disease to progress, Prenuvo provides early insight into what is going on under the skin. Armed with detailed health information, you'll be able to make proactive, informed decisions about your health."

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This could be you.Darren Kemper/Corbis/VCG

Kim Kardashian described the technology as "life saving." She didn't share her results, so it's impossible to know what disease Prenuvo detected in her which she would not otherwise have found, which we can only assume led to the advice of a specialist in that field, followed by a life-saving treatment plan, which, I guess, she underwent successfully, which in turn blessed us with more time on the planet with Kim Kardashian. Whatever it was, I'm thrilled. I wish her and her family only the best.

Kim's experience and the resulting post motivated New York Magazine's Asia Milia Ware to do the scan, and, to everyone’s relief, she found nothing major beyond "evidence of mild fat deposition in [her] liver." We are, of course, wishing her good luck with that and hoping it resolves, but this is not a finding anyone would call "life saving."

Framed as Kardashian did, the question Prenuvo raises is: would you save your own life for $2,500? This is not entirely dissimilar from the question: Is your life worth $2,500? But realistically speaking, that’s not the question at all. This scan is actually asking: do you want to find out information about which you may or may not be able to take action? It's tempting to imagine that a scan like this would produce some information about which the conclusion will be clear. In theory, the Prenuvo scan could tell you if you have cancer or an aneurysm or fatty liver disease. The next step is figuring out if you can fix these things. The step after that is either fixing them, inshallah, or learning to live with the consequences.

That’s quite the third step.

I find the stakes of this machine so philosophically high! Kim Kardashian’s ethical acuity astounds me. I couldn't decide what I'd do if I had the necessary $2,500 rattling around, so I asked the editors of Esquire for their take: would you get a scan that could maybe save your life, maybe do nothing at all, for $2,500? Basically, everyone said “yes,” except for one guy, who said, “I wish I didn’t know about this. I’m a massive hypochondriac.” (He also told me he asked his family for a colonoscopy for Christmas one year. His existential condition is no doubt beyond the scope of this article.)

Most of my colleagues all said they’d go for it without much existential inquiry. The bigger thing was cost, which baffled me. Sure, most people, including me, don't have $1,000 to $2,5000 kicking around for recreational body scans. You could scan just your torso for $999, which, given that the torso is really the money shot of the whole operation, isn't a terrible deal. If that's not enough, you can throw in the head for a total of $1,700. (Mr. Colonoscopy at this point thoughtfully chimed in that he’d gotten bills for bloodwork for, like, $4,000.) But come on! You’re telling me you believe this thing could save your life, but you’re also not willing to shell out 2,500 bucks for it?

Let's say you find out, like our hero at New York Magazine, that you could, maybe somewhere down the road, come to have fatty liver disease, and you should keep an eye on your alcohol intake. Honestly, what are you going to do about it? I know what I’d do: feel guilty every time I drink a beer from now until I’m dead at age 77.8 of something other than fatty liver disease.

I’m not saying ignorance is bliss. Ignorance is not bliss at all if this thing caught a tumor that, without intervention, would have eaten you alive. That would be the best $2,500 you could ever spend. It would absolutely be as “life saving” as Kim says it is.

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I’m guessing this is what I look like on the inside. Especially when I stand in this pose. Yuichiro Chino

But what if it said you had an aneurysm that could, at any moment, burst, killing you? It might. It might not. And by the way, it’s in a location where there’s nothing you can do about it. Off you trot to enjoy your life! Maybe you’d think, “Ok, there are no guarantees on any given day that an air conditioner won’t fall on my dome and kill me anyway. I know no more and no less, practically speaking, than I did before I got this scan.” That would be an ethically airtight way to look at the situation, but good luck enjoying a wasted Sunday afternoon in front of Love Is Blind ever again.

Would you, in that case, consider the Prenuvo scan the best or worst use of $2,500 of your life?

Maybe you’re the kind of person who feels that the best thing you can do with your life is enjoy the pleasure of doing very little. There’s never enough time to do all the nothing you want. Or perhaps the knowledge that you will eventually die–sorry to tell you this, but eventually, you will die–is already moving you to live fully and well. Most of us fall somewhere between these two extremes, and we are the people for whom this technology feels like something out of a morality play. For us, when I ask, would you get the scan? I’m really asking: Are you ready, for a mere $2,500, to find out what kind of life you’re living?

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