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Ellen Maud Bennett, 64, died in May of inoperable cancer.
When Ellen Maud Bennett was diagnosed with inoperable cancer and given only days to live, she filled her final days with love, humor, and specific instructions for how she’d like to be remembered.
The 64-year-old, who lived in Newfoundland, Canada, died May 11, but her obituary, written as she requested, is being lauded by so many people who’ve felt discriminated against by doctors for their size.
Her obituary reads, in part:
A final message Ellen wanted to share was about the fat shaming she endured from the medical profession. Over the past few years of feeling unwell she sought out medical intervention and no one offered any support or suggestions beyond weight loss. Ellen’s dying wish was that women of size make her death matter by advocating strongly for their health and not accepting that fat is the only relevant health issue.
While it’s unclear what Bennett’s own specific experience with the medical system was, her final words are resonating beyond the grave.
People have been sharing her obituary and applauding her message on social media and in the guestbook comments on Legacy.com.
“The treatment she describes from her doctors fills me with anger. I, too, am fat, and have faced neglect and hostility from doctors that would be hard for me to believe, had I not experienced it myself,” wrote one person in the guestbook.
“You’re a hero to many. Thank you for this, your gift to all of us of size, we needed this issue brought into the light,” said another.
If Bennett experienced anti-fat bias from doctors, she’s far from alone. There’s a well-established history of anti-fat discrimination and bias by both doctors and medical students. A 2003 study found more than 50% of doctors viewed obese patients as “awkward, unattractive, ugly, and noncompliant.” Another study from 2014 found 67% of medical students were unaware of their own implicit anti-fat bias.
Michael Orsini, a professor at the University of Ottawa who studies how attitudes toward weight impact policy, said the issue is larger than just the medical community.
“We as a society associate obesity with poor health, irresponsible behavior, people who are seen as lazy, people who don’t care about their health and don’t have the willpower to keep their weight at an acceptable level, whatever that level might be,” he told BuzzFeed News.
But, in the health care system, that bias can lead to doctors dismissing patients’ concerns and telling them to just lose weight. That, in turn, can cause overweight patients to avoid seeking medical care.
“The effects are real in that if people avoid the health care system so they don’t feel like crap when they go, it might be too late when something is diagnosed that’s not related to their weight,” said Orsini.
Given the long history of anti-fat bias in medicine, Orsini isn’t surprised to see Bennett’s obituary has gone viral.
“She’s very clear that she does not want to die in vain, she did want to raise the issue in a way that would resonate with other folks who have encountered similar experiences,” he said.
“It really is a call to arms for folks.”
Beyond her struggles in the health care system, Bennett’s obituary describes her as a lover of costume design, seafood, and art.
“Please remember Ellen when you next read a great book, go to a play or buy a small object of stunning beauty. We’ve lost a remarkable woman,” the obituary said.