Health Care

Former Justice Asks Congress for Alzheimer's Aid

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Retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor testifies Wednesday before the U.S. Senate's Special Committee on Aging about her husband's struggle with Alzheimer's. It is the first time O'Connor has spoken publicly and at length about the disease. She urges Congress to speed research on finding a cure. Her husband's diagnosis was the main reason she stepped down from the court in 2005. She says he is "not in very good shape."


There was a hearing today on Capitol Hill that did not feature generals or cabinet secretaries, or even bitter debate. But this meeting of the Senate Special Committee on Aging did draw a big crowd.

Senator ELIZABETH DOLE (Republican, North Carolina): As I look out across this hearing room and see the number of people here, I don't believe I've ever witnessed as many people at a hearing in the five, six years that I've been in the United States Senate, which certainly speaks... Yes.

(Soundbite of applause)

ADAMS: That was Senator Elizabeth Dole of North Carolina.

NORRIS: The topic was Alzheimer's, and the hearing room grew very quiet for the first witness, former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.

Ms. SANDRA DAY O'CONNOR (Former Associate Justice, U.S. Supreme Court): I'm here in the position of being a caregiver. My beloved husband, John, suffers from Alzheimer's. He's had it for a long time now, and he's not in very good shape at present. And so, I have some appreciation for the depth of feeling that you have, that's generated the interest and the people who are in this room today. You magnify that.

ADAMS: O'Connor left the court two years ago and moved her husband into assisted living in Phoenix, Arizona, near their children.

NORRIS: A private person, O'Connor said research in to Alzheimer's will take time and money, but it's worth it.

Ms. O'CANNOR: If you can just shave off by five years the onset of Alzheimer's, broadly speaking, think of the money you'd save nationally on health care. I mean, it's just - it's incredible. So, everything you're doing is worth it, and it does take a staggering toll on the family and the caregivers. I can certainly attest to that.

ADAMS: O'Connor appeared alongside other high-power witnesses, including former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. He said his sister-in-law's mother suffers from Alzheimer's. The room was especially taken by the former justice.

NORRIS: She advocated banning discrimination against people at risk for diseases like Alzheimer's, people like her own sons. And she concluded with this.

Ms. O'CONNOR: I just thank you for focusing on this and for sharing your own personal experiences with it. I - they're heartrending, as everybody in this room can tell you. Thanks.

Unidentified Man #1: Thank you very much, Justice O'Connor.

(Soundbite of applause)

ADAMS: Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, today on Capital Hill, to focus attention on Alzheimer's Disease.

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