Robertson Stirs Passions With Suggestion to Divorce an Alzheimer’s Patient
With his suggestion this week that a man whose wife was far “gone” with Alzheimer’s should divorce her if he wanted a new companion, the television evangelist Pat Robertson stumbled into treacherous moral terrain, setting off storms of criticism and questions about a disease that shatters lives and families.
Other conservative Christian leaders were swift to condemn his remarks as a call to violate the biblical sacrament of marriage. Many doctors and patient advocates had a more complex response, with many suggesting that Mr. Robertson, 81, had repeated misleading stereotypes about Alzheimer’s but had also broached an important subject, how spouses and other family members of dying patients can prevent their lives from being engulfed and start to move on.
On his television program, “The 700 Club,” on Tuesday, Mr. Robertson took a call from a man asking how he should advise a friend whose wife was deep into dementia and no longer recognized him.
“His wife as he knows her is gone,” the caller said, and the friend is “bitter at God for allowing his wife to be in that condition, and now he’s started seeing another woman.”
“This is a terribly hard thing,” Mr. Robertson said, clearly struggling to think his way through a wrenching situation. “I hate Alzheimer’s. It is one of the most awful things, because here’s the loved one — this is the woman or man that you have loved for 20, 30, 40 years, and suddenly that person is gone…”
He said the question presented an ethical dilemma beyond his ability to answer. “I certainly wouldn’t put a guilt trip on you if you decided that you had to have companionship,” Mr. Robertson said, apparently suggesting divorce as a way to avoid the sin of adultery…
But Beth Kallmyer, senior director of constituent services at the Alzheimer’s Association in Chicago, declined to question Mr. Robertson’s remarks…