Should an Alzheimer spouse divorce?

Televangelist Pat Robertson has done it again. This week he responded to a call from a viewer and began a firestorm among people of all religious backgrounds. Here is the question and his answer as reported by the New York Times:
“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 with the subject matter. “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 “

“I know it sounds cruel,” he continued, “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, somebody looking after her.”

When Mr. Robertson’s co-anchor on the show wondered if that was consistent with marriage vows, Mr. Robertson noted the pledge of “’til death do us part,” but added, “This is a kind of death.”
On their Facebook page the 700 Club offered this follow up:
Having had many close friends struggle through Alzheimer's, Pat has seen the devastating impact that it has on not only the spouse with the disease, but especially the caregiver whose quality of life also becomes completely debilitated by it.
Robertson's reply is offensive on so many levels.
  • Firstly, how can anyone categorize a person with Alzheimer’s as dead? This is simply ludicrous and presupposes that all people with the disease are incapable of loving interaction. His answer displays an alarming ignorance.
  • Secondly, when did marriage become all about what a person gets out of it? Where is the call to sacrifice and honor? Where is injunction to enter into the suffering of the hurting spouse? It seems that one having this sort of mindset looks for reasons to escape their vows rather than embrace them.
  • Lastly, where is the concept that Christian marriage is a covenant between a man, a woman and their God? Robertson's answer comes across as a purely human response. He leaves God out of the situation and offers no spiritual advice at all.
When I think about this issue my heart wanders back to a room in a nursing home in a suburb south of Memphis. My dad shared a room with a man who had this sort of dementia. Before the disease the man had been a pastor. Each day that I was there I watched his wife come in and attend to his needs. My heart was lifted then and it is lifted now as I remember how much she loved her husband. This is a memory that greatly encourages me and shows me what love really is. Would that Robertson shared such a story with his caller.

What do you think of Robertson's reply to his caller. How would you have responded?


  1. Sad response on so many levels. I guess sometimes it is hard to tell someone that they should be thankful for having someone to love, joyful for tbe vast beauty of the kingdom and obedient to the one who gave us these gifts.

  2. I couldn't believe it when I heard it. One other thing is that even if we say he is right, You then have to say, what constitutes her being gone and not the person they married. Who is married to the same person they married.

  3. “thankful for having someone to love”

    Great response Ed!

  4. “Who is married to the same person they married.”

    Absolutely true jrchaard!

  5. So does Pat's wife now have grounds to leave him?

  6. I'm a big fan of Pat Roberson, but he is 100% wrong.

    Wayne, your comment was made in jest, but if one accepts what Pat said it very well could lead to that.

    When someone is wrong, and you don't say anything about it because of your job, you lose your credibility.

  7. This is so hard! My mom had Alzheimer's for the last 8 years of her life. My step-dad loved her until the day she died, but he had found love from a woman whose husband had died of the same disease. His 'friend' was such a comfort to dad. I hope I don't get it, but if I do, I'm sure my hubby will still remember me, even if I don't remember him. I'll remember him even if he doesn't remember me.

    I think Pat Robinson was wrong to give the answer he gave.

  8. We live in a retirement village. I watch so many faithful couples be true to their vows when one of the couple has Alzheimer's or another dementia. Surprisingly, more that I know are men dealing with ill wives than women dealing with ill husbands, though we see both.

    I can't tell you how much I admire those people for their loyalty and love. Pat Robertson is wrong!

  9. How heartbreaking that Mr. R would give such a callouse and unscriptural response.

    I love the loyalty of couples who honor their vows "for better or worse ~ till death due us part"

    I love seeing couple as one of your commentor state that are loving spouses to the very end.

  10. Hmmm... ther eis a similar situation at my own church. The husband has been suffering from ALS. About 6 years ago the couple had a re-commitment ceremony (when he was still able to be in a wheelchair).

    About 4 years ago, when he became bed-ridden they moved him out to the guest house at the advice of professionals, so that he was basically no longer in her life. The "professionals" told her she she live her life as though she didn't have a husband. She lived in the main home and came to visit him every once in a while.

    When I first heard of that, it struck me as odd. Why have him moved? Why not just divorce him if you don't want him in your life anymore? Moving him to the guest house just seemed cruel. Then again, so did divorcing him, so I knew a lot of people who thought moving him to the guest house was the better option. I just didn't understand that.

    Sadly, they are now in the process of getting a divorce. I realize that I am not in this person's shoes, and that I can never fully understand the pain it must cause to want a man in your life that will be the traditional view of a husband, not one that is confined to a home. I've never had to watch someone in my life go through the kind of agony that ALS or other diseases bring.

    But I also cannot understand the abandonment of a husband. "For better or worse... in sickness and in health." These are the vows they took. I feel kind of self-righteous saying that, but it is how I feel.

  11. I enjoyed reading this post,Bob...and of course, I agree with you.


  12. Great post—I think you were right on in your responses. Robertson's take on this issue seems so pragmatic that it completely cuts love out of the equation.

  13. I do not agree with Pat's approach. I am compassionate to the sufferings of those in a lifeless marriage or those with terrible medical conditions. When did suffering become a license for selfishness?

  14. I think that Pat's advice goes along with that of Job's wife and freinds. When life gets tough, just curse God and die, get it over with.

    Job had a different perspective. I hope that many people see the selfishness of such advice.

  15. If I get Alzheimer's, will God divorce me?

    Great post Bob.


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