Sotomayor's diabetes: A legitimate reservation or discrimination?

Sonia Sotomayor

Source: 103.7 The Buzz

Just how important are medical issues when considering a nominee for the Supreme Court? Living to a ripe old age is important, since justices serve for life. Clarity of mind is also important, given the nature of the job. Low blood sugar, for example, could theoretically impair judgment. Both of these health issues have been raised in connection with Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor’s Type I (juvenile) diabetes.
Diabetes increases the risk of kidney and heart disease, stroke and nerve damage. According to Joana Casas, who’s with the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, “The average life expectancy for people with Type One is lowered by an average of ten years.” According to other sources, a woman with Type I diabetes who has already reached age 50 can expect her life to be shortened by eight years. Sotomayor appears to be healthier than most, with no evidence of eye, kidney, nerve, or heart problems, so her prospects may be even better.

Improved medications now allow Individuals with this illness to live longer lives. As Time Magazine points out, however, this trend has only been seen among men. “Between 1971 and 2000, heart-related deaths among men with diabetes dropped by half but doubled among diabetic women.”

Is it legal to discriminate against chronic illness?

Would it be discrimination to deny the position to Sotomayor because of her health condition? In her award-winning blog on diabetes, Amy Tenderich notes that diabetes is a chronic condition, not a terminal disease. Individuals may be ill, but they’re not sick. They have disadvantages, but they’re not disabled. Wouldn’t it be discrimination to withhold a position simply because there was a possibly of health-threatening complications in the future? Says Tenderich: “This is where survivorship with chronic illness meets the glass ceiling.”
In the case of Sotomayor there would certainly be a touch of irony, since she decided to become a lawyer because of her diabetes. As reported in the Daily News:

As a child, Sotomayor became enamored with Nancy Drew stories and wanted to be an investigative detective like the female heroine of those popular childhood mystery books. At age 8, she was diagnosed with diabetes and was told detective work wasn’t in the cards.
“I became very disappointed about not having a life plan,” she told The News. “At the time, ‘Perry Mason’ had become a very popular show, and I loved Perry Mason. If I couldn’t do detective work as a police officer, I could do it as a lawyer.”

I suspect the diabetes question won’t even come up at the current confirmation hearings. The Republicans have more important issues with which to impress the public, including gun control and being a “Wise Latina.”


(Hover over book titles for more info. Links will open in a separate window or tab.)

Alice Park, Sotomayor’s Diabetes: Will It Be a Handicap?, Time, May 26, 2009
Josh Gerstein, W.H. remains mum on Sotomayor diabetes, Politico, July 10, 2009
Amy Tenderich, Supreme Court Prospect Sotomayor Has Diabetes: Deal or No Deal?, Diabetesmineā„¢, May 14, 2009
Sam Stein, Sotomayor’s Medical History Sparks Wider Debate, Huffington Post, May 13, 2009
Michael Saul, Bronx judge Sonia Sotomayor would be first Latina on Supreme Court if she replaces Justice Souter, Daily News, May 1, 2009
Sotomayor Has Diabetes: Good, Or Bad?, Wonkette, May 13, 2009
Sheri R. Colberg and Steven V. Edelman, 50 Secrets of the Longest Living People with Diabetes


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