Did Abraham Lincoln Have Marfan Syndrome?
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Did Abraham Lincoln Have Marfan Syndrome?

Some people believe Abraham Lincoln might have had Marfan syndrome. Now, we can test it. Or can't we?

Genetic Testing on the Deceased

Most people will agree that genetic testing requires the consent of whoever is being tested. But for obvious reasons this ethical principle is impossible to follow when testing people who have passed away. There are some reasons, however, why genetic testing on certain deceased persons might prove important. One of these is identification. When a body is found, genetic testing may aid in revealing the identity of it. In some cases of explosions or archaeological findings, genetic testing can be the only way through which the bodies can be identified, matching tissue samples with previously stored tissue or samples of close relatives.

The Case of Abraham Lincoln

One interesting historical case is centered around Abraham Lincoln. Several researchers have been wondering whether the former president might have suffered from Marfan syndrome, a genetic connective tissue disorder, associated with a tall, gangly build, long limbs, a strangely shaped chest and loose joints.

Lincoln was assassinated on April 14, 1865, and died early the next morning. During the autopsy, tissue samples were taken and stored at the National Museum of Health and Medicine, where they still are today. Recently, a genetic marker for Marfan syndrome has been discovered, which means that these tissue samples can be tested for the disorder.

The Problem of Consent

Now, the question becomes: can we test these tissues? Since the person being researched can’t give his consent, and there are no descendants to give it either, can the researchers go ahead and test his tissues? A perhaps strange question that follows from these is: do the deceased have the right of privacy? Several prominent people from the past have tried their best to restrict access to their diaries, or letters, or other things of that nature.

Or is it our right to investigate the past thoroughly, with whatever means we have? Is it wrong to ask questions and seek answers for these? After all, we can’t harm Abraham Lincoln by finding out whether he had Marfan syndrome or not. And even if he did have (there are even other possible conditions that can possibly explain his build, a plausible candidate being multiple endocrine neoplasia type 2) Marfan syndrome, would that in any way diminish his legacy and accomplishments? Whether he was just very tall, or did have Marfan syndrome, Abraham Lincoln is considered to be one of the greatest presidents of the United States. Can a genetic test really change that?

Well, kind reader, what do you think, can the deceased be tested genetically when there is no one to give consent? Leave a (respectful!) comment below.

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Comments (5)


There is a general consensus among the scientific community as to the liklihood.

Nice info in the issue of disorder.

No problems with that.

What if I'm a decendant? Could I approve his genetic testing? I am quite serious. I have an old family photo album with Abe Lincoln's photo in it. Oh, and by the way... guess who has Marfan's?? You guessed it.... Me!!... and it runs in the family!!!-Allison