“…In sickness and in health, for better or for worse…” These are a part of the marriage vows that most couples recite during their marriage ceremony. Whether these vows are recited or not, they are implicit truths concerning the nature of the relationship they are entering. However, in one of Pat Roberston’s recent television programs, he was asked whether a man who has a wife suffering from Alzheimers could divorce her so he could move on with his life and with another woman. To most people’s surprise, Robertson said, “Yes.”
Robertson’s answer disturbs me for a number of reasons.
- Because his answer flagrantly disregards the teaching of Jesus on the matter. Read what Jesus said in Matthew 19:9 and compare it to the answer Robertson gave to this inquirer.
- Because of the implications of his answer. Robertson argued that Alzheimers was a “form of death,” thus freeing the man to act as though she was dead. Now, just how far is one willing to take that? Is she alive or is she dead? You can’t be both. If dead, just how much debilitation does it take to make one dead, and who gets to decide? If dead, thus allowing one to walk away from his marital obligations, then why can one not walk away from his health care obligations? You don’t continue to feed dead people do you? Talk about Pandora’s box! This impacts the sanctity of life and end life decisions.
- Because it’s an insult to countless people who have faithfully ministered to their suffering spouses and parents. Robertson suggested that one ought to consult a better ethicist than himself for answers to this question. While I would agree that people ought to look elsewhere for guidance, I would suggest that most people wouldn’t have to consult an ethicist to know what is right and what is wrong in such a situation. Christian and non-Christian alike are appalled by the calloused suggestion that one may walk away from one’s spouse at the spouses greatest time of need.
Alzheimers is a terrible disease. I’ve witnessed it with loved ones in my family. I’ve watched as my mom and dad gave round the clock care to both of my grandmothers who suffered from this disease. Some of the most vivid pictures of Jesus that I have ever seen are from godly children and spouses who have selflessly and tirelessly ministered to loved ones who were suffering from Alzheimers. To suggest we can simply “walk away” robs the world of an opportunity to see the love and compassion of Jesus lived out in his disciples, and it robs God of the glory that results from such sacrificial service.
No, the vows don’t say “till Alzheimers do us part,” or “till stroke do us part,” or “till paralysis do is part” or a host of other debilitating situations. The person who desires to honor God, honor one’s spouse, and honor his vows will understand that it is “till death do us part.”
(BTW, the video above was posted to YouTube by People for the American Way. My use of this video clip is not intended to be an Endorsement of this organization).