To the Editor of The New York Times:

Re “Widow Cites Dementia in Suicide of Williams” (Arts pages, Nov. 4), in which Susan Schneider Williams discusses the various health challenges the comedian Robin Williams faced:

The extraordinary Robin Williams has given us yet another extraordinary gift: an urgent invitation to discuss one of the most challenging medical and ethical issues of our time. What do we do with knowledge of our futures, especially when clouded by the likely emergence of dreaded medical disorders?

As we enter a new era of genetic testing, functional brain imaging and the adoption of previously unimaginable new diagnostic technologies, we will become privy to information that raises infinite questions.

Do parents own genetic knowledge of their children? Is such information to be shared, and by whom?

What is the psychological impact of such knowledge on families and our larger society? Can knowledge of our futures spur us to better life choices? How do life choices affect specific outcomes?

Will priorities of medical research shift as those with the greatest financial means become the earliest adopters of expensive diagnostic interventions?

There are no easy answers, but, like the compelling talent of this great performer who now bestows an entirely new legacy, these questions are impossible to ignore.


New York

The writer is a psychiatrist and a clinical professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of Washington.

Published New York Times November 10, 2015