In light of President Obama naming Sonia Sotomayor as the potential replacement for retiring Justice
Stephen Breyer David Souter (yowza. Awful misstep. Apologies) I wanted to link back to an article on the Huffington Post about her medical history.
Sotomayor is a Type I Diabetic, and as the article points out:
[W]hile hardly a debilitating disease -- indeed, recent medical advancements have made it quite manageable to live with -- there remain enough late-in-life health implications to have sparked debate in legal, political and medical circles. Just how relevant are medical issues to Sotomayor's or any other potential Supreme Court nomination?
Author Sam Stein then quotes some political operatives who say yes, her diabetes is a very important consideration. However, none of them have MDs. The docs he speaks to are much more optimistic, noting that professional athletes with diabetes are still able to perform at their peak, and that medical advancements make the condition much more manageable.
The article mentions that the lifespan for people with Type I diabetes is about ten years less than that of average Americans. That's the stat offered by the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, but because the advancements in diabetes care have happened quickly and recently, some advocates argue that the stats don't fully reflect the effect of these advancements on mortality.
"There have been so many recent improvements in care," says Dr. Sue Kirkman, director of clinical affairs for the American Diabetic Association, who says that rates of diabetes-related complications are declining. "With modern care and with people taking good care of themselves, people have a really good prognosis. it’s not a reason to instantly say someone isn’t able do a long term position like this."
And while Sotomayor's condition may lead to complications that force her to retire after twenty years of hard work on the court, there's also the chance that if appointed, she could be hit by a bus on her second day and be forced to retire then. 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. Just last week, a Texas detective won a discrimination suit against the FBI, who didn't hire him because he managed his diabetes with insulin injections, not a pump. President Obama deserves credit for looking at Sotomayor's real qualifications—not her medical file—when making his choice.
NPR collects some more opinions here.