Famous radio announced Casey Kasem passed away Sunday after a familial battle over his medical treatment, including whether to provide him food and water. His last days not only sparked a battle within his family over how to properly care for him but also a debate about whether people in his situation should be denied food and water or if that constitutes inappropriate medical treatment.
Kasem’s ‘‘American Top 40’’ began on July 4, 1970, in Los Angeles. The No. 1 song on his list then was ‘‘Mama Told Me Not to Come,’’ by Three Dog Night.
The show continued in varying forms — and for varying syndicators — until his retirement in 2009. In his signoff, he would tell viewers: ‘‘And don’t forget: keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars.’’
In recent years, Kasem was trapped in a feud between his three adult children and his second wife, former actress Jean Kasem. In 2013, his children filed a legal petition to gain control of his health care, alleging that Kasem was suffering from advanced Parkinson’s disease and that his wife was isolating him from friends and family members. Kasem also suffered from Lewy Body Disease, a form of dementia.
A judge in May temporarily stripped his wife of her caretaker role after she moved him from a medical facility in Los Angeles to a friend’s home in Washington state. Jean Kasem said she moved her husband to protect his privacy and to consult with doctors. Casey Kasem developed a severe bedsore while in Washington and was in critical condition by the time he was hospitalized in early June.
It was a sad, startling end for a man whose voice had entertained and informed music lovers worldwide.
Kasem’s legacy reached well beyond music. His voice was heard in TV cartoons such as ‘‘Scooby-Doo’’ (he was Shaggy) and in numerous commercials.
LifeNews blogger Bobby Schindler, Terri Schiavo’s brother, put Casey’s last days into perspective and addressed the controversial end of life issues. Writing before Kasem’s death, Schindler wrote:
I watched my own sister, Terri Schiavo, anguish through almost two weeks without food or water and there are no words that can properly describe the inhumanity. In her last days, we would not permit our mother to visit Terri, in an effort to spare her additional torment, as blood pooled in Terri’s eyes, and her skin and lips were terribly cracked because her tissues were lacking any moisture. Terri’s body turned different colors of blue and yellow and her breathing became so rapid, it was as if she was outside sprinting. I could go on.
Indeed, the disagreement between Kasem’s family also raises the issue of the dangers of health care initiatives. It places the interpretations into the hands of “quality of life” minded family members, healthcare professionals, hospital boards and ethics committees, not to mention some Judges who have no regard for the dignity of human life.
Make no mistake about it, countless conscious and unconscious persons die by deliberate starvation and dehydration every year. Typically, we only hear of the cases in which there is a family disagreement or in cases where there is a celebrity involved. And with an accepting culture, laws that permit this behavior, and a government controlling our health care system under the guise of “compliance”, this scenario will become more common and the pre-mature death of our medically vulnerable loved ones will increase significantly.
We live in a very troubled and an increasingly dangerous America. Our culture has lost sight of God’s supreme right over when life begins and when it ends, and has “turned on its head” the true meaning and value of suffering and compassion.Those of us who wish to defend life in all stages, especially for the most vulnerable, are demonized when we ask the obvious question: where is the humanity in deliberately denying someone’s most basic rights – food and water? Tragically, what was once considered barbaric has now become part of everyday life.
Bioethics attorney Wesley Smith, who is pro-life, also addressed these contentious issues before Casey’s passing:
The key factual and ethical question here is whether his body is shutting down as part of the natural dying process. In that situation, people often stop eating and drinking spontaneously. In such cases, it can be medically inappropriate to force sustenance into a body that can’t process it. Not knowing about Kasem’s individual circumstance, I will not opine about his particular case.
Second, if Kasem’s advance directive said he did not want tube-supplied food and water under these circumstances–whatever we each might think of the morality of that–he had the legal right to so instruct because tube-feeding is considered a medical treatment.
But let’s look at the broader issue. There has been increasing advocacy of late to deny tube supplied–or, as I have recently noted, even spoon feeding–to Alzheimer’s patients who can process sustenance. What about them?
Many bioethicists, and some doctors who treat Alzheimer’s patients, increasingly argue that these patients should be denied sustenance as a matter of supporting their best interests. I am not referring to decisions made in accordance with an advance directive, but to the increasing assertion that the standard of care should be to deny feeding tubes. From the position paper of the American Geriatric Society:
Percutaneous feeding tubes are not recommended for older adults with advanced dementia. Careful hand-feeding should be offered for persons with advanced dementia, hand feeding is at least as good as tube-feeding for the outcomes of death, aspiration pneumonia, functional status and patient comfort. Tube feeding is associated with agitation, increased use of physical and chemical restraints, and worsening pressure ulcers.
Rationale: The current scientific evidence suggests that the potential benefits of tube feeding do not outweigh substantial associated treatment burdens in person with advanced dementia.
Recommendations are one thing. Labeling feeding tubes in late-stage Alzheimer’s patients as “inappropriate care” to allow bioethics committees to impose the death decision under a “futile care” protocol is another. And that is where I think we are headed–just as we are in patients with long-term diagnosed persistent unconsciousness.
So, I can’t say whether Kasem is a new Terri Schiavo–because her tube feeding was clearly medically appropriate as she was not otherwise dying. Thus the question in her case involved “quality of life” and egregious conflicts of interest on the part of Terri’s husband.
In contrast, I can say that Alzheimer’s patients generally are being looked upon increasingly as people who should not be sustained nutritionally after a certain point, even if that is what the patient or family wants. Also, under Obamacare’s eventual cost/benefit protocols, I believe a time will come in which sustaining such patients will not be a covered procedure. Ditto, people with long-term profound cognitive disability.
Bottom line: Alzheimer’s patients in all fifty states who can process food and water are denied medically supplied food and water. Such decisions are legal and deemed “ethical” by many, an opinion with which I dissent.