TEXAS FAITH 50: Is it ever right to divorce a spouse with Alzheimers?

Dallas Morning News,

Dallas Morning News,

Each week we will post a question to a panel of about two dozen clergy, laity and theologians, all of whom are based in Texas or are from Texas. They will chime in with their responses to the question of the week. And you, readers, will be able to respond to their answers through the comment box.

When Christian broadcaster Pat Robertson told a caller on his TV show that a married man dating another woman because his wife was suffering from Alzheimer’s "should divorce and start all over," it caused a predictable reaction. Even his co-host reminded Robertson that couples vow to remain together "for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer." But Robertson did not back off: "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." Alzheimer’s, he said, "is a kind of death." And he said he would not put a "guilt trip on someone who divorced for such a reason."

What to make of this? Conservative Christian leaders were swift to condemn Robertson’s remarks. But as the New York Times reported, many doctors and patient advocates had a more complex response – some suggesting that he had broached an important subject, how spouses and other family members of dying patients can prevent their lives from being engulfed and start to move on.

How do we reconcile the practical and moral conflicts in Robertson’s advice? Is it ever right to divorce a spouse suffering from Alzheimer’s? What is the morally acceptable thing for people who develop new relationships while caring for a spouse in the last stages of Alzheimer’s?

Our Texas Faith panel weighs in with some provocative, and often surprising, answers on a very difficult issue.

NITYANANDA CHANDRA DAS, minister of ISKCON (International Society for Krishna Consciousness), Dallas 
The by-product of religion, or spiritual connection is satisfaction and selflessness. Those who are not connected with God seek the outer path, as hinted last week by our panelist Ric Dexter. They seek to satisfy the self or extended self. However those who first of all have the basic understanding of the soul, that the self is different from the body, do not look for externals for comfort, for they are connected with God. Thus a true practitioner does not see others with the eye of exploitation.

What is the eye of exploitation? It is when we view others as objects of enjoyment, thinking "what can this person do for me?" Because in America we do not have a God conscious culture rather we have a iGod conscious culture we cannot have steady relationships. As soon as person is no longer useful for the others gratification there is divorce. Whereas in India there is a remnant of spiritual culture remaining. Marriage is held together by the sense of duty. That I have a duty to God, society, and saints to properly uphold the marriage institution. Therefore I am duty bound to protect and care for my spouse, regardless of how difficult it is. Such duty is purifying for our heart and produces spiritual realizations.

Life is meant for shreyas, working for ones ultimate good, rather than preyas, instant gratification. Living a life for your own gratification only produces dissatisfaction. On a side note one who at the age of 80, at the door step of death should not seek additional relationships but rather should marry themselves to God.

Only that person who is ready to renounces everything (home, wealth) to work for the highest good is permitted renounce family ties and thus be a sannyasi.

"A person who is not disturbed by the incessant flow of desires — that enter like rivers into the ocean, which is ever being filled but is always still — can alone achieve peace, and not the man who strives to satisfy such desires." -Bhagavad Gita As It Is 2.70