Elderly Couple Refuse Food, Water to Die; Get Evicted from Facility

PHOTO: Dorothy and Armond Rudolph refuse to eat food or drink liquids in order to die.
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At 92 and 90, Armond and Dorothy Rudolph's bodies were failing them. He suffered severe pain from spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the spinal column. She was almost entirely immobile. Both suffered from early dementia, according to their son Neil Rudolph. They wanted to die.

The Rudolphs, married for 69 years, decided to refuse food and water to end their lives. Although they lived in the Village at Alameda, an assisted living facility in Albuquerque, N.M., they maintained they had a right to die on their own accord.

Three days into their fast, the couple told their plan to staff at the facility. Administrators immediately called 911, citing an attempted suicide.

The Village evicted the couple, and the next day, the Rudolphs moved into a private home, where they again stopped eating and drinking. Ten days after he began the fast, Armond Rudolph died. Dorothy Rudolph died the following day.

"Both knew that they didn't want to endure a lingering decline," their son said. "Neither wanted to lose their independence."

The Village at Alameda staff refused to comment to ABCNews.com on the Rudolphs' eviction.

Marshall Kapp, director of the Florida State University Center for Innovative Collaboration in Medicine and Law, said there were several issues the facility likely considered after it learned of the couple's plan to refuse food and water.

"Legal apprehensions probably played a big part in their decision, along with the fear of bad publicity," said Kapp, who was not involved in the case. "A facility retains the right to evict somebody if they can't care for them properly most of the time, so you'd have to look at the contract they signed."

Even if the family and individuals signed off on refusing food and drink, Kapp said the Village at Alameda likely feared being sued by the district attorney or the state regulatory licensing agency for possible neglect.

Because neither person suffered from a progressive medical condition that may have required a feeding tube to keep the person alive, "we're not talking about the usual kind of situation," said Kapp.

Despite the legal issues, Neil Rudolph, together with Compassion & Choices, an organization that seeks to improve care and expand end-of-life choices, is launching a campaign called Peace at Life's End. Anywhere. The initiative is meant to spread awareness of options, including the right to voluntarily stop eating and drinking to end one's life.

"Nearly 1 million Americans live in these facilities, yet most don't know how their end-of-life rights could be infringed upon as my parents' were," said Neil Rudolph. "Their eviction shocked me. I think it's inhuman for mentally competent adults to be overruled at the end of their lives by an assisted living facility administrator, or by anyone else."

"Stopping eating and drinking is peaceful and painless and people throughout the country don't avail themselves of it," said Barbara Coombs Lee, president of Compassion & Choices, in a press conference meant to kick off the campaign. "They turn to violent means and suffer needlessly, when this is legal and safe and available in every step."

Mentally Competent Adults Have Right to Refuse Food and Drink

Coombs Lee emphasized that Americans who are mentally capable of making an end-of-life decision should have the ability to die peacefully and with dignity, at home, surrounded by family and friends.

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