By Wesley J. Smith, J.D., Special Consultant to the CBC
Pat Robertson approves of seeing “other people” and/or divorcing a spouse with Alzheimer’s because it is a “kind of death.” From a 700 Club segment (first two minutes of clip) in which Robertson answers a question about a man started seeing other people after his wife lost her memory from Alzheimer’s:
I hate Alzheimer’s . . . Because here is the . . . woman or man you have loved, the person you have loved for 20, 30 or 40 years is gone. They’re gone. They’re gone! They are gone! If he is going to do something, he should divorce her and start all over again (and provide custodial care) . . .
If you respect that vow, ’till death do us part, this is a kind of death . . . I certainly wouldn’t put a guilt trip on you . . . This is a kind of death . . . If he says she is gone, he is right, because this is like a walking death.
Why should spouse abandonment in sickness, because that is the heart of Robertson’s advice, be limited to Alzheimer’s? We can all think of injuries and illnesses that cause a profound change in the ability of a spouse to interact with his or her mate.
But living a moral and ethical life has to be about more than avoiding what feels bad — and having a spouse with Alzheimer’s feels very bad. Indeed, doing the right thing is sometimes the hardest thing. People need help and support doing right. Instead, when the going gets tough, Robertson is saying, it is okay to get going.
And I resent Robertson’s denigration of people with Alzheimer’s as the moral equivalent of dead. My uncle died of the effects of Alzheimer’s, so I have close personal experience. And I will tell you this: Every moment he lived, he wasn’t “dead.” And he wasn’t “gone.” He was terribly, catastrophically, ill. He was profoundly disabled. And he needed the love of his family more than he ever had — not just custodial care. His inability to give love back had nothing whatsoever to do with it.
At the end of Robertson’s answer, he laughs and suggests that the viewer consult “some kind of ethicist besides me.” Good idea. Why anyone listens to anything this man says has always been a puzzle to me.
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