February 29, 2024

A kind of death


Pat Robertson, the colourful American televangelist with a gift for making headline opinions, has ventured into a controversial dimension of end-of-life care. In his 700 Club television show, he was asked about the ethics of divorcing a spouse with Alzheimer’s disease. Tough question, said Robertson, a very tough question. But Alzheimer’s is a kind of death, so perhaps it is ethically permissible.

The preacher was attacked on both fronts: by liberals for being a heartless hypocrite who would abandon a sick wife and by fellow evangelicals for being an unscriptural moral relativist. Doctors commented that emotional responses linger on, even if a person becomes incompetent.

The controversy highlights public uncertainties over how to deal with people who are not responsive. A recent study showed that people felt that patients in a permanent vegetative state were “more dead than dead”. With an avalanche of dementia inexorably rolling over the US, more people than Pat Robertson will be wrestling with this question. ~ Slate, Sept 16

Michael Cook
Alzheimer’s disease