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Couple Transported Out of Facility After Refusing Food

By Olivier Uyttebrouck
Copyright © 2011 Albuquerque Journal
Journal Staff Writer

          Armond and Dorothy Rudolph want to die.
        Dorothy, 90, and Armond, 92, have refused food or water since Sunday to hasten their deaths.
        But that decision led to a conflict this week with an Albuquerque assisted living facility, where the couple have lived since October.
        "Life is miserable," Dorothy Rudolph said, when asked why she wants to die. "Our bodies are pretty rotten by now. You name it, I've had it."
        Her husband, she said, "is in constant pain."
        Armond Rudolph suffers from spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the spine that causes severe pain. Dorothy Rudolph has lost much of her mobility in recent years, said their son, Neil Rudolph, of Alamosa, Colo. Both are in the early stages of dementia, he said.
        The Village at Alameda, an 86-bed assisted living facility in far north Albuquerque, called police and rescue at 4:38 p.m. Thursday and reported the couple were attempting suicide. The village requested that the Rudolphs be transported to a medical facility, emergency personnel said.
        The assisted living center also gave the Rudolphs a letter notifying them that their lease was being terminated and they needed to move out by Feb. 5.
        Administrator Marcia Wegmann provided a written statement Friday in response to the Journal's request for an interview.
        "Assisted living facilities are equipped to provide assistance with activities of daily living, such as eating, dressing and bathing," the statement said. "If we see that someone in our care requires alternate placement, medical attention, or a level of care beyond the facility's capabilities, we have an obligation to notify a medical provider."
        Dr. Andrew Harrell, a University of New Mexico physician who works with the Albuquerque fire and rescue personnel, recommended Thursday that paramedics let the couple remain in their apartment.
        "There's no medical reason for us to force them to go anywhere," Harrell told paramedics and a staff member at The Village at Alameda.
        As emergency personnel deliberated whether to take the couple to a hospital, Armond Rudolph said to a reporter, "All I can suppose is this eviction notice came from a corporate headquarters someplace. Do they have a right to move us out? I don't think so," he said. "Other people have a right to their beliefs. I don't know if they have a legal right to force other people into their beliefs."
        The Rudolphs remained in their apartment Thursday night after they signed papers saying they had refused to be transported to a medical facility.
        On Friday, they moved to a house in Albuquerque leased by their children, Neil Rudolph said.
        "Hopefully, we can settle down and do what we came here to do, and that's to tend to my parents (and) their needs for their last few days," he said.
        Wegmann said privacy laws prevented the company from talking about their clients, but "everyone associated with our facility cares deeply about the health, safety, and well-being of our residents."
        The senior Rudolphs say they made a thoughtful decision to end their lives after consulting with their family, and Neil Rudolph said he supports their decision.
        "It's not suicide," he said. "It's controlled death. They have the right to stop eating and drinking."
        The couple entered hospice care on Tuesday with VistaCare Hospice, he said. Hospice is a set of services intended to reduce pain and improve quality of life for people at the end of their lives.
        The state's Uniform Health Care Decisions Act, which governs end-of-life decisions, gives New Mexicans a right to refuse food and water, said Barbara Mathis, a health lawyer for the Institute of Ethics at the UNM's School of Medicine.
        "In New Mexico we can refuse nutrition and hydration, and there should be no denial of services because we do that," Mathis said.
        The Village at Alameda is owned by Fundamental Long Term Care Holdings LLC, based in Sparks, Md., according to the company's website. Fundamental owns a variety of health care facilities in 15 states, including eight in New Mexico.
        Assisted living facilities provide separate apartments for individuals and couples, and different levels of personal care, depending on what residents need.
        The Rudolphs met as teenagers at a Baptist church in Flint, Mich., and married in 1941.
        Dorothy Rudolph said she still remembers that first meeting when she was 15: She had dropped her gloves outside her church. "He yelled at me, 'you dropped your gloves, girly,' " she said.
        The couple moved to New Mexico in 1949, when Armond took a job as a commercial printer, Neil Rudolph said.
        "They have a very strong aversion to ever ending up in a nursing home," Neil Rudolph said. "Before they lost control of their own lives, they wanted to make this decision."
       



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