Why the Word 'Diabetic' Can Be Offensive

Mary Kate Cary Health Guide
  • I’ve noticed from time to time references in the press to “diabetics.” I’m not talking about using the word as an adjective – such as “the diabetic food aisle at the grocery store” – but when it is used as a noun. I’m talking about sentences like, “A diabetic since 15, he has learned to control his sugar intake …” Or, “The number of diabetics in New York City has skyrocketed …”

    At first it didn’t bother me, but then I started thinking about it. There are very few other diseases that are used as a label for the person who has them. (In fact, the only one that comes to mind is a leper, in Biblical times.) A child with autism is sometimes called an autistic child, but never just “an autistic”; a child with leukemia is never “a leukemiac”; a kid with allergies is just a kid with allergies. When I mentioned this to my daughter, she agreed and said calling a person with diabetes a diabetic is like calling a person with cancer “a canceric.”
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    It may sound like semantics to some, but if you’re on the receiving end of it, you realize that it becomes a subtle way of valuing the disease more than the person who has it. They become defined by the disease. No one wants to be labeled that way. And no one, especially a child, should feel that diabetes is what defines their life and their future.

    So the next time you’re tempted to call someone a diabetic, think twice. Try saying “my child who has diabetes” – or even better, “my child who is doing a great job with her diabetes.” Sometimes we see references to “the millions of Americans who are suffering from diabetes” but we can improve that too – maybe it could be “the millions of Americans who are living with diabetes in their lives.”

    It’s all a matter of attitude. And hopefully someday soon, when we have a cure, we’ll be able to say, “This is my daughter, who used to have diabetes when she was a child.” Wouldn’t that be the best – to be a “diabetes survivor”?

Published On: March 22, 2006