Religious broadcaster Pat Robertson told his "700 Club" viewers that divorcing a spouse with Alzheimer's is justifiable because the disease is "a kind of death."
During the portion of the show where the one-time Republican presidential candidate takes questions from viewers, Robertson was asked what advice a man should give to a friend who began seeing another woman after his wife started suffering from the incurable neurological disorder.
"I know it sounds cruel, but if he's going to do something, he should divorce her and start all over again, but make sure she has custodial care and somebody looking after her," Robertson said.
The chairman of the Christian Broadcasting Network, which airs the "700 Club," said he wouldn't "put a guilt trip" on anyone who divorces a spouse who suffers from the illness, but added, "Get some ethicist besides me to give you the answer."
Most Christian denominations at least discourage divorce, citing Jesus' words in the Gospel of Mark that equate divorce and remarriage with adultery.
Terry Meeuwsen, Robertson's co-host, asked him about couples' marriage vows to take care of each other "for better or for worse" and "in sickness and in health."
"If you respect that vow, you say 'til death do us part,'" Robertson said during the Tuesday broadcast. "This is a kind of death."
A network spokesman said Wednesday that Robertson had no further statement.
Disease rarely leads to split
Divorce is uncommon among couples where one partner is suffering from Alzheimer's, said Beth Kallmyer, director of constituent services for the Alzheimer's Association, which provides resources to sufferers and their families.
"We don't hear a lot of people saying 'I'm going to get divorced,'" she told The Associated Press.
"Families typically respond the way they do to any other fatal disease," she added.
The stress can be significant in marriages though, Kallmyer said, because it results in the gradual loss of a person's mental faculties.
"The caregiving can be really stressful on a couple of levels," she said.
"There's the physical level. There's also the emotional level of feeling like you're losing that person you love," Kallmyer said.
As a result, she said, it's important for couples to make decisions about care together in the early stages of the illness, when its effects aren't as prominent.