Through our nation’s most difficult time – the Depression and World War II – Eleanor Roosevelt was our First Lady. But, in reality, she was so much more. She was our First Mother, as well… a calm, comforting presence who carried herself with grace and dignity no matter the burdens.
She remained an iconic figure for the rest of her life… a sort of First Lady-Emeritus.
Mrs. Roosevelt became ill in April, 1960, at the age of 75. She was diagnosed with aplastic anemia, in which the bone marrow doesn’t make enough red blood cells. Over the next two years doctors performed frequent tests, to try and figure out the cause.
In the summer of 1962, she took a turn for the worse, requiring frequent transfusions and running 104-degree fevers. Doctors hospitalized her for a week. When she didn’t recover, they wanted to re-admit her. They were shocked when she refused.
That September, she agreed to be re-admitted, but only under the condition that when she wanted to leave, her doctor would agree. So Mrs. Roosevelt stayed in the hospital for three weeks of invasive, spirit-draining testing.
In October, Mrs. Roosevelt was told that she probably had a form of tuberculosis. When given the news, she didn’t ask for aggressive action. She didn’t ask for miracle drugs. She didn’t ask for more tests.
“I want to go home,” she said simply. And her doctor abided by his promise. So on Oct. 18, she went home… and through her beloved Central Park one last time.
A week later, the tuberculosis was confirmed. Her doctors were overjoyed, because TB was considered treatable. But when they told her the good news, they were – again – stunned by her reply. She told them she wanted to remain at home… and that she did no wish to be treated medically any more. She told them she was ready to die.
On Nov. 4, 1962, Eleanor Roosevelt went into a coma. Three days later, the “First Lady of the World” passed away. But not before writing in one of her final newspaper columns about “the articles of torture” – the tests she had undergone.
Baron H. Lerner, Professor of Medicine at the NYU School of Medicine, recently wrote about Eleanor Roosevelt’s last days on The Huffington Post.
“Just because someone is admitted to the hospital or has a condition that can be temporarily ameliorated does not mean that we must blindly forge ahead,” Professor Lerner wrote. “There is something to be said for dying at home like Eleanor Roosevelt did – unattached to any machines.”
* * * * * *
At The Law Offices of Alice Reiter Feld & Associates, we’re Elder Law attorneys. And this is a story we thought you should know. Because we believe in the concept of Dying with Dignity… in leaving the decision up to the patient and family, rather than the doctor.
If you have questions about the Elder Law Journey, we have answers. We’re just a phone call away.
Eleanor Roosevelt Believed In Dying With Dignity