Pat Robertson’s comments on Alzheimer’s infuriates Christians, highlights need to erase stigma on disease
The head of an Alzheimer’s organization said recently that comments by televangelist Pat Robertson, referring to Alzheimer’s as a type of “death” that may justify divorce, highlights the need for more public education about the ailment.
Eric J. Hall, founder and head of the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America, said the comments Robertson made on the 700 Club only illustrate the need to erase the stigma of Alzheimer’s by helping people to perceive how the brain disorder affects afflicted individuals and their families.
Robertson’s comments infuriated Christians, including leaders and members of the Evangelical community. One comment to a blog in Christianity Today said Robertson gave “horrible advice.” Another comment said the advice was “wretched,” and a third said it was “irresponsible, callous.”
Hall said, “There is no doubt that this heartbreaking disease robs people of their memories and other intellectual functions, but to liken Alzheimer’s disease to, as Mr. Robertson said, ‘a kind of death’ fosters an insensitivity that feeds misperceptions about the disease. It fails to take into account that people with Alzheimer’s disease, although impaired, deserve optimal care and dignity. Love and compassion are the greatest gifts for every human being until their very last breath.”
Robertson made the comment when a caller to the 700 Club told of a friend whose wife has advanced Alzheimer’s, and who had been dating other women. The friend justified his action by saying that his wife, as he knew her, “is gone.”
Robertson replied, “That is a terribly hard thing. I hate Alzheimer’s. It is one of the most awful things because here is a loved one—this is the woman or man that you have loved for 20, 30, 40 years. And suddenly that person is gone. They’re gone. They are gone. So, what he says basically is correct. But I know it sounds cruel, but if he’s going to do something he should divorce her and start all over again. But to make sure she has custodial care and somebody looking after her.”
Michael Verde, founder and head of Memory Bridge (which helps Alzheimer’s patients to connect with communities), disagreed with Robertson, and said it would be damaging to leave a spouse who is afflicted with the disease.
Verde, an evangelical Christian, said victims experience loneliness which can be overwhelming. He told The Chicago Tribune, “Ask Pat Robertson: ‘Is there ever a condition in which God would rightfully divorce us?’ The answer is no.”
Robertson McQuilkin, former president of Columbia Bible College and Seminary, left his job of 22 years to care for his wife who was afflicted with Alzheimer’s for 25 years until she died in 2003.
McQuilkin, in a 2004 interview with Christianity Today said he never regretted caring for his wife. “Some people sort of resent the imposition, but those thoughts never came to me. I thought it was a privilege to care for her. She had always cared for me.”
Never an ‘accident’ in marriage
Evangelical speaker Joni Eareckson Tada, founder of Joni and Friends International Disability Center, said on her website, “When a Christian leader views marriage on a sliding scale, what does this say to the millions of couples who must deal daily with catastrophic injuries and illnesses?”
Tada added, “Alzheimer’s disease is never an ‘accident’ in a marriage; it falls under the purview of God’s sovereignty. In the case of someone with Alzheimer’s, this means God’s unconditional and sacrificial love has an opportunity to be even more gloriously displayed in a life together!”