- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 18, 2001

Is anorexia a "disability"? According to Keri Krissik, a 20-year-old student from Milford, Connecticut, it surely is. Miss Krissik is currently suing Stonehill College, a Catholic institution, for refusing to let her register on the grounds of her anorexia. Miss Krissik stands 5-feet-six-inches and weighs less than 100 pounds. She has been anorexic since the age of 8, and last year, while at home, she suffered a heart attack. She now has a defibrillator implanted in her heart. Miss Krissik claims to be protected by the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). While her problem and suffering is undeniable and sad, again we find the definition of disability stretched beyond recognition. Indeed, it seems that every American may well suffer from some sort of disability, including many that we have not heard about yet.

Under the ADA, employers cannot discriminate against individuals who are otherwise qualified to perform the essential functions of the job. But does this also refer to someone who wishes to go to college while trying to kill herself by refusing to eat? Or makes herself sick by eating too much?

We are now in increasingly murky territory when it comes to disabilities. In some cases obesity has been considered a handicap, in some cases not. When an airline refused to hire an applicant as a flight attendant because he exceeded the weight requirements, a court found there was no discrimination because the excess weight was the result of voluntary bodybuilding exercises. On the other hand if obesity is a result of a medical disorder, it may be classified as a disability.

So is Miss Krissik right when she says anorexia is a disability, or is this simply a cry for help? "Last time Miss Krissik was on campus she almost died. There is a risk that she would drop dead on campus," said Elise Busny, a lawyer representing the college.

It would surely be better if this troubled young woman went to a school that actually specialized in treating students with eating disorders. As of this moment, Stonehill College does not have the facilities to provide her with the treatment she needs, as the leadership of the school has pointed out. In Connecticut, there are several treatment facilities; one is the Wilkings Center for Eating Disorders and another is the Yale Medical School. Hopefully she will choose to avail herself of one of these before it is too late.

Living in a culture obsessed with weight loss and idealized thinness, where thinness equals success and happiness, many people at some point suffer problems with weight, body shape and what has become known as "self-image." TV programs such as "Ally McBeal" set the standard for what is regarded as beautiful. This forces otherwise healthy women to experiment with dangerous diets, leaving many with eating disorders. The National Institutes of Health claims that 1,000 women die each year from anorexia. Since this is a silent disease, however, many cases are left unreported.

What afflicts Miss Krissik is not "disability" or a handicap, though it is a troublesome phenomenon with medical, psychological and cultural dimensions. Her case is yet one more example of the kind of potential for abuse embedded in the Americans with Disabilities Act well-intentioned though it may have been.


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