Judging the Nominee
The spotlight is on Sotomayor, diabetes, and the impact of chronic illness in the public eye.
By Ilene Raymond Rush
June 2009 — The nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court was in place for at least five and a half seconds before the media and blogosphere erupted with the real news: Sotomayor, a Princeton and Yale law grad who rose from a childhood in public housing, also happens to be a middle-aged woman with diabetes.
Diagnosed at eight with type 1 diabetes, Sotomayor has been injecting insulin for most of her 54 years.
News of the nominee's health condition is noteworthy for a number of reasons. First, for Sotomayor, diabetes was reportedly taken into consideration by the president's nominating team and subsequently deemed a non-issue. Second, her nomination gives the chattering classes a chance to write intelligently about diabetes and how it is managed in the 21st century. And third – and maybe most importantly -- Sotomayer chose from the start to be completely upfront about her condition, unlike many public and political figures who have been less than forthcoming about revealing their personal health records (including many on the Supreme Court).
These points are important for all of us who struggle with the daily management of diabetes, either on our own behalf, or on the behalf of a child, spouse, or parent. While parents of children with type 1 diabetes are often told that the condition need not be a barrier to success, there remains a lingering fear about the restrictions posed by the disease. Sotomayer's nomination to the Court coupled with her honest acknowledgement of her condition signals to the world that diabetes is not a professional barrier to one of the top posts in the land.
Unfortunately, parts of the mainstream media and blogosphere provided a less optimistic view. Writers immediately posed the (non)question of whether, for Sotomayor, diabetes might reduce her time on the Court, which provides for a lifetime appointment. Time magazine posted an article that stressed the many complications of uncontrolled diabetes, with no due diligence on Sotomayor's personal management of her health. Top heavy with fear, the article encouraged the assumption that most, if not all, people with type 1 diabetes will suffer a shortened lifespan. Statistics showing that women with diabetes fared less well than men were highlighted in posts across the web. The snarky Gawker blog posted a piece calling Sotomayor, at 54, "a poor risk when it comes to longevity." To continue:
Annoying and discriminatory, yes. But there was good news as well: the diabetes community kept on its toes, posting objections to the scaremongering and encouraging notes for the nominee on Daily Kos and DiabetesMine, as well as other sites. A Miami Herald reporter may have provided the best argument against those who worried about her physical fitness on the Court:
It's true that complications of her (Sotomayor's) conditions may force her to retire after twenty years of work on the court, but she could also be hit by a bus on her second day and forced to retire. Or ten years from now, discoveries in stem-cell research could eliminate the more damaging health effects of diabetes. There are too many variables in medicine, government, and everyday life to make a hiring decision like this based on a two-decades long "what if"—though unfortunately, when it comes to diabetes, a lot of employers often do.
President Obama deserves credit for looking at Sotomayor's real qualifications—not her medical file—when making his choice.
Sotomayor's nomination broadcasts something that those of us with diabetes already know: diabetes is to be managed, not feared. Let's move on.
dLife's Viewpoints columnists are not all medical experts, but everyday people living with diabetes and sharing their personal experiences, most often at a set point in time. While their method of diabetes management may work for them, everyone is different. Please consult with your diabetes care team before acting on anything you read here to find out what will work best for you.
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