Peace at Life's End: Neil Rudolph tells story of his parents, who hastened death by not eating

Armond and Dorothy Rudolph wanted a say in how they would die. At 92 and 90 years old, they were ill and didn't have much time left, says their son, Neil Rudolph of Alamosa. So they stopped eating and drinking in order to hasten their deaths -- a decision that caused their nursing home to evict them and their son to join a campaign to spread the word about legal end-of-life choices. The campaign stops in Denver today at noon.

Compassion & Choices, a Denver-based nonprofit dedicated to expanding end-of-life choices, is behind the campaign, called "Peace At Life's End. Anywhere." Neil Rudolph, a 65-year-old retired Adams State College chemistry professor, has become one of their spokesmen. Today at the Gill Foundation, 2215 Market Street, he'll tell his parents' story.

"For them, a nursing home was the definition of hell," he says. His parents were living at a home in Albuquerque, New Mexico, when they decided to die -- a decision known as "Voluntarily Stop Eating and Drinking." According to him, "They'd had whole string of ailments. They were also in the early stages of dementia and realizing their choices were beginning to be limited, both in life and in choosing what they wanted for death."

So they stopped eating and drinking. When the nursing home realized what they were doing, its staff accused them of being suicidal and called the paramedics. A doctor evaluated them, Neil Rudolph says, and assured the nursing home that what the elder Rudolphs were doing was legal. But the home insisted they leave immediately. Neil Rudolph and his sister moved their parents to a rented home, where they continued their fast. Eleven days into it, Armond Rudolph died. His wife passed away the next day.

Neil Rudolph was there when they died. He says he doesn't consider his parents' deaths suicide. "Suicide is some rapid, impulsive thing where you're choosing death over life," he says. "This is not. This is just hastening one's death... This is natural."

His parents' story was featured on ABC News last week. Now, Neil Rudolph hopes it will help others understand their rights and advocate for themselves -- even in death.

After today's Denver event, the campaign continues to Littleton, where Neil Rudolph will speak at the Bemis Public Library, 6014 South Datura Street, at 6 p.m. Tomorrow, it'll be in Boulder. The campaign stops in Fort Collins on Thursday and in Centennial on Friday.

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Melanie Asmar is a staff writer for Westword. She joined the paper in 2009 and has won awards for her stories about education, immigration and epic legal battles. Got a tip? She'd love to hear it.
Contact: Melanie Asmar