Brain health expert and bestselling author Dr. Daniel Amen said that Pat Robertson’s view on Alzheimer’s, which includes his belief that it would be justifiable to divorce a spouse that has the disease, makes him question the Christian broadcaster’s own mental health.
During the viewer letters segment of his 700 Club TV show Tuesday, Robertson responded to a viewer who wrote about a friend that began seeing another woman while still married to his wife, an Alzheimer's victim.
Robertson touched off a firestorm of opposition to his response to the letter, which also included a rebuttal to a challenge from his co-host during the show. Terry Meeuwsen pointed out that when couples marry they vow "for better, for worse."
However, Robertson responded, "You said 'till death do us part;' this (suffering from Alzheimer's) is a kind of death. I certainly wouldn't put a guilt trip on you if you decided that you had to have companionship; you're lonely."
Amen, who will be taping shows for PBS that include discussions on preventing Alzheimer’s, told The Christian Post that although he had not seen the controversial segment, Robertson’s remarks were puzzling.
“I think it’s wrong and I think it sends the wrong message. I think it shows such bad judgment on Pat’s part that I would wonder about his brain,” Amen said. “The hallmark of a good brain is to have forethought, judgment, and empathy. I haven’t read his whole statement so I want to be cautious in my remarks, but his comments are hurtful.”
Amen is part of a team of three doctors and experts that are helping Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., with its yearlong Daniel Plan health campaign. Amen was brought onto the team by Pastor Rick Warren for his expertise in brain health. Dr. Mark Hyman, an expert in metabolism, and cardiac surgeon and TV host Dr. Mehmet Oz are featured along with Amen extensively as resources for the congregation.
“There are many stages of Alzheimer’s disease and some people have mild Alzheimer’s and they are completely aware. Other people have very severe forms and they have no recollection of their lives,” Amen said. “It’s a devastating illness, but it’s not one thing. It’s a very wide spectrum of chronic presentations and so to just say that if someone has Alzheimer’s disease that’s reason to divorce your spouse ... I just think it really goes against Christian values and direction.”
“I understand the loneliness that people feel who have a spouse with Alzheimer’s, but his comment just doesn’t fit in my mind,” he continued. “They are not pronounced dead, they are sick. So, if you have a spouse that’s sick, that has a mental or brain illness, is it okay to divorce them if they are sick? I don’t know of any biblical passage that you can put that to.”
Victor Mazmanian leads a ministry specifically aimed at providing support to those diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or dementia and their families. As the founder of the Mind-Heart-Soul Ministry, and the director of faith outreach for a senior care organization, which are both based in Orange County, Calif., Mazmanian has talked to thousands of people on Alzheimer’s issues.
Mazmanian began his ministry and work in this area when he began caring for his mother, diagnosed with Alzheimer’s seven years ago.
The ministry leader says that people with Alzheimer’s count on the support from their loved ones, whether the appreciation is easily recognizable or not.
“You don’t know what they are really thinking at certain points of the illness as time goes on, but we do know that they respond to love and they respond to human touch and they respond to a smiling face,” Mazmanian said. “You see it in their face. Their face lights up. It’s very obvious.”
Mazmanian said that there are senior health care agencies that promote the view that someone diagnosed with Alzheimer’s is not the same person.
“Some medical agencies tell people that, ‘Oh, they are no longer their loved one once they have the disease,' or 'Just remember, that’s not your loved one anymore, that’s somebody else now,’” he explained. “That opens the door for people to say, ‘Well, that’s not the person I married so I’m going to leave and find somebody else.
"That’s a whole other mindset that doesn’t make any sense at all because they still are your loved one. They haven’t changed, they just aren’t able to communicate as they once did,” he said.
Maria McNeill, whose mother passed away recently from a physical illness, has a father in the advanced stages of Alzheimer’s. She said that her parents were married nearly 53 years and “despite the ravages of Alzheimer's, my father still retained the capacity to love his wife deeply, just as she loved him.”
“Pat Robertson's comments were offensive and appalling,” McNeill, 52, said. “That's not the kind of Christianity I want any part of.”