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    How long will you live?

    Test subjects not going to take short-life span sitting down

    Charlie's dictum: "All I want to know is where I'm going to die so I’ll never go there."

    —Warren Buffett, Berkshire Hathaway Letter to Shareholders

    Many people—some ophthalmologists among them—worry about death. Some worry that they will die too young, missing out on years with loved ones, favorite activities, and the many joys of living.

    Others worry that they will die too late, suffering from afflictions, such as dementia, that could leave them with a poor quality of life for many years or a length of time that would exhaust their finances in retirement.

    More from Dr. McDonnell: Why dopamine is my drug of choice

    And some worry about both possibilities.

    For those who prefer unlimited longevity, there is the strategy attributed to famous businessman Warren Buffett's partner, quoted above.

    This plan is obviously unworkable, however. The way airlines work these days, the odds that your next flight will be cancelled and you will be rerouted through the city in which you are to die is very high.

    More: Why pediatric ophthalmologists don't go to late night parties

    So if we make the presumption that we will stay reasonably healthy and cognitively intact but cannot live forever, what would be ideal would be to at least know how much time each of us has left upon this green earth. Knowing whether you have 1 year, 10 years, or 30 years before the time comes to "shuffle off this mortal coil," as Hamlet would say, would allow you to get your affairs in order, be sure to accomplish the things you think you are important, and arrange that the last check you write will bounce.

    Until recently, it has not been possible to know how long you will live.


    Peter J. McDonnell, MD
    He is director of The Wilmer Eye Institute, The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, and chief medical editor of ...

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