Pat Robertson’s statement today that it’s OK, from his standpoint as a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ, to divorce a spouse because he or she has Alzheimer’s disease has sent shock waves through the community of advocates, caregivers and those living with the disease.
“We were really surprised,” said Kate Meyer of the Alzheimer’s Association. “This is not any kind of trend we’ve seen. In fact, Alzheimer’s families really rally together around their loved ones.”
Robertson’s comments threaten to undermine one of the main goals of those who advocate on behalf of Alzheimer’s patients: To remove the stigma and shame so many still attach to the disease, to bring it out of the shadows and into the light of social compassion and support…like any other disease.
It is hard to imagine a religious leader condoning divorcing a spouse who has cancer, or MS, or Parkinson’s, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, or a severe stroke.
It is hard to imagine a discussion over whether the any of those diseases are essentially “death,” and thus justify divorce. No one, for example, suggests Michael J. Fox’s wife has a reason to leave him simply because he has a degerative disease that may well ultimately rob him of many of his faculties.
Perhaps the strongest refutation of Robertson is the living example of millions of couples who go on the hard journey of Alzheimer’s hand in hand, and who cannot imagine any other way, from Sandra Day O’Connor and her husband, John, to Eunice Kennedy Shriver and her husband, Sargent, to Nancy and Ronald Reagan — and to so many more.
I think of all the couples I’ve met facing the challenges of Alzheimer’s together, and I know Pat Robertson is wrong. About us.