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Ruth Bader Ginsburg Hospitalized for Gallbladder Ailment (1)

May 6, 2020, 7:47 AM

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg underwent non-surgical treatment for a benign gallbladder condition and will be in the hospital for a day or two, the U.S. Supreme Court said, in the latest health scare for its oldest justice.

Ginsburg, 87, a four-time cancer survivor, had been suffering from a gallstone which caused an infection, according to a statement from the court. She is “resting comfortably,” the court said, and plans to take part in two arguments Wednesday, which are being conducting by telephone because of the coronavirus.

Ginsburg was treated Tuesday at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore after undergoing tests the previous day at Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington. She had participated in phone arguments on both days, taking turns with her colleagues in asking questions.

The court said the tests confirmed that a gallstone had migrated to Ginsburg’s cystic duct, blocking it and causing the infection. Her condition, cholecystitis, is caused in most cases by gallstones blocking the tube leading out of the gallbladder, according to the Mayo Clinic’s website.

Cholecystitis would typically call for a laparoscopic cholecycstecomy, a surgical procedure to remove the gallbladder, said Benjamin Thomson, head of general surgery at the Royal Melbourne Hospital in Australia. In an 87-year-old patient, antibiotic therapy may be recommended instead, he said.

Endoscopic Examination?

If the stone is causing cholangitis, or inflammation of the bile duct system, doctors may want to examine Ginsburg’s pancreatic and bile ducts using an endoscope, said Thomson, a hepato-pancreato-biliary surgeon who treats pancreatic cancer. The so-called ERCP procedure would use a bendable, lighted tube placed through her mouth and into the stomach and first part of the small intestine. She’d also be administered antibiotics, he said.

Ginsburg reportedly had a distal pancreatectomy in the past, said Thomson, who has never treated her. “Normally that has a survival of only 1%, so it’s amazing she’s still alive,” he said.

Ginsburg’s health has been of particular concern to liberals in recent years. The Supreme Court could tack sharply to the right if she had to step down and President Donald Trump was able to appoint her successor.

Read More: Supreme Court Tele-Argument Brings Minor Hiccups, Thomas Queries

Until last year, when she was recovering from lung-cancer surgery, Ginsburg had never missed an argument because of illness. She joined the court in 1993.

Ginsburg has also survived two bouts of early-stage pancreatic cancer, last year and in 2009, and was treated for colon cancer in 1999.

An avid exerciser, Ginsburg has continued with her workouts at the court even while much of Washington has been shut down because of the Covid-19 outbreak.

(Updates to add surgeon’s comment in fifth paragraph.)

--With assistance from Jason Gale.

To contact the reporter on this story:
Greg Stohr in Washington at

To contact the editors responsible for this story:
Joe Sobczyk at

Laurie Asséo, John Harney

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