Ageism Reaches New Heights, or is it New Depths?

A news item on Jan.12th informs us that an 82 year old woman in Cranbrook BC, whose name is Margaret MacDonald was apprehended for drunk driving although she was completely sober.  She failed 15 times to blow when asked by an officer to do so. She tried to explain that she has a lung condition, which makes it difficult, if not impossible, to do the blow test. She was fined, her license suspended, and car towed away. But “after the two-hour ordeal in a midnight chill Margaret MacDonald went to the local hospital and had her  blood tested for alcohol. There was none.”  At present she is attempting to get this overturned.

Several days later Ms.MacDonald suffered a mild heart attack.

Where does one start?  This is nothing short of extreme ageism to start, and elder abuse in addition.  Here was a totally sober older woman, trying to explain to the police that she suffered from a lung condition which didn’t allow her to blow.  This was completely ignored. She was then further humiliated by having to stand outside of her house in the cold while the police were going through their outrageous beaurocratic shenanigans.  Yes, I know road tests are extremely valuable and cut down the number of accidents and so on.  That is not the issue.

The real issue is that the police simply did not listen to this woman’s explanation.  This is ageism, pure and simple. Likely these officers had a stereotypical picture of an older person who in their view was confused, and probably didn’t know what she was talking about and likely drunk to boot.  Well, somebody was confused all right and it was not Margaret MacDonald.  I shudder when I think that with population aging – which seems to concern everybody – this type of abuse may only increase. What is clearly needed is some type of sensitivity training to inform those occupying public jobs, like the police, to not pre-judge a person on the basis of her/his age.  I won’t hold my breath (pun intended).

A couple of months ago I submitted an article to a Canadian magazine, arguing that popular culture fills young women with a dread of aging, sending them on dangerous diets, supposed anti-aging creams, including cosmetic surgery and much more. The article was rejected as it did not “have a hook.”  Well, this case may qualify as a “hook” but on the other hand, maybe younger people are being realistic when they fear becoming older.

I will not write an article about it, but if I did I would herald this wonderful woman, though shivering and humiliated, had the wit to go to a hospital and prove that she was alcohol free! That is what should be trumpeted as a triumph, and much more descriptive of older women’s, and older men’s ability to outwit (in this case) the police.

In fact I will raise a glass to her at dinner, and hope that later on, no police stops me and harrasses me because I am an octogenarian.

Way to go, Margaret MacDonald.


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2 Responses to

  1. Pat Skene says:

    Hello Lillian:
    This was a disturbing article and quite though provoking. I read it when it was first posted and have discussed it with several people. I plan to write a piece about the issue – have been collecting news articles. Thank you for the inspiration. I enjoy your writing very much. Please check out my blog for seniors at
    Pat Skene

  2. Hello Pat. Thank you for your comment. Yes it was a disturbing event altogether.
    I gave a lecture to an academic recently with my analysis of what happened. I suggested that the officers involved were treating this poor woman according to their internalized stereotype that any older women is confused, doesn’t know what she is talking about and in this case, was drunk to boot. I was quite surprised that one of the audience argued with my interpretation, saying that the officer’s action could be interpreted as being positive, in that making the woman blow
    into the breathalizer 15 times could be seen as giving her every chance to prove she was not drunk. This after the woman had told them she had a lung problem….sometimes I really get discouraged!

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