Sandra Day O'Connor, First Woman On The Supreme Court, Cause Of Death Explained

On Friday, December 1, it was announced that Sandra Day O'Connor, the first woman Supreme Court Justice, passed away at the age of 93 (via CNBC News). While there is yet to be seen a cause of death in certification, in a public statement, the Supreme Court announced that her death was likely due to complications from advanced dementia potentially combined with a respiratory illness. The Supreme Court further speculated that O'Connor's advanced dementia diagnosis may have more specifically been related to Alzheimer's disease, the same cause of death of her husband John Jay O'Connor III, who passed away in 2009, The New York Times reported.

"We at the Supreme Court mourn the loss of a beloved colleague, a fiercely independent defender of the rule of law, and an eloquent advocate for civics education," pronounced Chief Justice John Roberts in a public statement. O'Connor's spent nearly 25 years serving on the Supreme Court from when she was first appointed by former President Ronald Regain in 1981 until she retired in 2006, after which time she continued to advocate for civic learning and judicial independence as well as spend time with her family.

Sandra Day O'Connor's history of dementia

In October of 2018, O'Connor issued a public statement announcing her formal diagnosis of the beginning stages of dementia, thought most likely to be Alzheimer's disease. Sharing her personal reflections, the former Supreme Court justice stated she would no longer be able to actively participate in public life. This included stepping down from her position as leader of her online civics education program, iCivics. "I can no longer help lead this cause, due to my physical condition," O'Connor had written. She further stated that she would remain in Phoenix, Arizona, amongst her loved ones. "While the final chapter of my life with dementia may be trying, nothing has diminished my gratitude and deep appreciation for the countless blessings in my life."

While specifics around the complications of O'Connor's death have not yet been publicly released, research has shown what the most common complications of the condition tend to be. In a 2016 study published in The New England Journal of Medicine, researchers outlined a study involving more than 300 older adults with advanced dementia residing in nursing homes, in which it was found that eating problems, fever, and pneumonia were among the most common complications of advanced dementia.