Till Alzheimer’s Do Us Part?

Alzheimer’s is an extremely terrifying and unforgiving disease. This disease severely affects a patient’s memory and intellectual abilities. In the later stages of the disease individuals lose the ability to carry on normal conversations, remember their surroundings and loved ones. In America alone it is estimated that 5.4 million people suffer from this catastrophic disease, and it is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States.

Considering the above, what happens when your spouse falls victim to this disease? Tara Parker-Pope explored Alzheimer’s and divorce in her New York Times Blog titled “Love, Divorce and Alzheimer’s,” which can be found here.

When talking about Alzheimer’s and divorce two important questions come to mind:
1. Is it morally correct to divorce someone who has fallen victim to Alzheimer’s?
2. What kind of mental capacity does somebody need to commence/defend a divorce action?

The first question is almost certainly answered subjectively. Some people may find that divorcing a spouse who has Alzheimer’s is immoral; since, upon marriage one vows, “til death do us part.” It could be argued that we should care for our spouse until the end, because we would expect the same if the roles were reversed. The opposition argues that Alzheimer’s is death, in life; therefore, one is morally relieved of the sacred vow. Television Evangelist Pat Robertson created controversy when he advised a caller to divorce his wife who had Alzheimer’s. Robertson maintained, “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, somebody looking after her.”… <Read More>

A Death-Bed Marriage

The New York Times recently printed an essay written by Judge Lloyd Zimmerman, a state court judge in Minneapolis about an emergency wedding. 

Cheryl is a hospice worker for Thomas, 77, who has been discharged from the medical center hospice unit so he can die at home.  Thomas can no longer talk and communicates entirely through hand squeezes. Thomas’s dying wish is to marry Donna, 57, his life partner for 38 years. For whatever reason, Thomas and Donna never got around to having a wedding.

According to Judge Zimmerman, the wedding license bureau told Cheryl that no one has the power to issue an emergency license by phone, but she could try to reach a judge. In a desperate attempt to make her ailing patient’s wish come true, Cheryl called 16 judges with the hope that she could find a judge willing to perform an emergency wedding.  By luck, Cheryl called Judge Zimmerman’s chambers and Judge Zimmerman personally answered the phone.

By law, a couple to wed is required to attest in person, under oath, in front of the wedding license official that all the statements on their wedding application are true. In Minnesota, like most other states, there are formalities a couple must comply with. Formalities include a 5-day waiting period and an appearance in person at the wedding license bureau. According to Judge Zimmerman, there are no official procedures for obtaining emergency deathbed-wedding licenses.

At the point when Judge Zimmerman received Cheryl’s call, Thomas was near death and a drive to the downtown Minneapolis court was an impossible trip.… <Read More>

A Grave Issue

In many smaller countries, cemeteries are an unrealistic extravagance.  They take up space, and people seem to keep to continue to die!  Especially in Christian countries where the body is considered sacred even after death, there are worrying social implications when graves need to be dug up.

In Greece, the new practice is to rent your grave. This is a worrying prospect for the country’s Orthodox Christians.  You can rent your grave for up to 3 years, then the body is either sent to another country to be cremated or it is dumped into a mass grave.

This brings interesting questions of what do we do in a world with limited resources and deeply held beliefs?

As a side note, NY law on the matter is that no graves are allowed to be dug up until 100 years after the last plot in that cemetery is filled.  And most cemeteries never fill the last plot so that the clock never starts ticking.… <Read More>

The Mental Impairment And Financial Hardship Link

On October 30, 2010, the NY Times published an article about how financial troubles can be signs to doctors (and family members) that elderly patients might be facing mental impairment, including dementia and Alzheimer’s.


Similarly, on March 3, 2011, the NY Times reported on how mental impairment can be a sign of financial vulnerability. Such impairments spark professionals to screening older patients for financial vulnerability.

We have to be wary of the higher risk of fraud and financial abuse that elderly become susceptible to because of developing mental impairment. Likewise, financial hardship or abuse can be a cue into a person’s developing mental impairments.

 … <Read More>

Assisted Suicide or Death with Dignity?

David Levon, a member of the organization Compassion & Choices, came to NYLS mid-February to discuss the issue of Physician Aid in Dying and the recent film “You Don’t Know Jack,” about the controversial Dr. Jack Kevorkian. This coincided with the constitutional law discussion of the issue in my Con Law II class.

While the United States recognizes (and the supreme court upholds) a constitutional right to refuse or withdraw life-sustaining treatment, it leaves the issue of physician aid in dying through medication up to the states. While mentally competent adults who are terminally ill, imminently near death, and suffering great pain, may in some situations have a right to make a fully voluntary unpressured decision to seek medical help to hasten death through the aid of their physician, this only exists with those whose lives are dependant on being hooked up to “life support.” That is, only 3 states allow mentally competent adults who are terminally ill, imminently near death, and suffering great pain, to make a fully voluntary unpressured decision to seek medical help to hasten death through prescribed life-ending medication. Those are Washington, Oregon, and Montanta.… <Read More>