Legal Battle Over Casey Kasem's Care Offers 3 Lessons

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • Like clockwork in the late 1970s, I used to turn on my radio each weekend to listen to Casey Kasem’s American Top 40 to find out which recording artist had the top song that week. I loved hearing the trivia about various records and musicians, and also looked forward to hearing the weekly long-distance dedication that allowed listeners to salute a loved one.

    Because of these memories, I have been saddened to read about the challenges that Kasem has faced recently. Kasem, who has Lewy body dementia and Parkinson’s disease, has been the subject of a caregiving tug-a-war between his wife and daughter.

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    In mid-May, a judge ordered an investigation to determine Kasem’s location after his wife, Jean, moved the disc jockey from Los Angeles without his children’s knowledge. At this point, daughter Kerri Kasem sought a temporary conservatorship and was appointed as her father’s temporary caretaker, displacing their stepmother. At that point, authorities located Kasem in the state of Washington. Reports indicated that Jean previously had made it difficult for Kasem’s adult children to see their father and had even hired an armed guard to be present when they did visit him.

    After her father was found, Kerri moved him to a hospital where he was treated for an infected bed sore. While hospitalized, Kasem’s condition has continued to decline and the family has been in a legal tussle regarding whether to administer comfort-oriented care instead of medical treatment. As of yesterday, a judge ruled that food and fluids could be withheld from Kasem after concluding that providing these would cause more pain. Furthermore, the judge reviewed documents that indicated that Kasem didn’t want his life prolonged by food or fluids if he was mentally incapacitated. Not surprisingly, Jean and her attorney disagree with these rulings.

    So what are the takeaways from this sad tale? Here are my thoughts:

    • Make sure that you have all of your legal documents in order early. You need to take the time to complete all advance directives, which are written instructions that describe how you want health care decisions to be made if you become incapacitated.  You need to complete a living will, which allows you to voice what kind of life-sustaining care you would want if injury or illness leaves you dying or in a persistent vegetative state with no hope of recovery. Another document that you need to complete is the power of attorney for health care. This document appoints someone to be your agent. This person will make all health care decisions for you if you lose the ability to make the decisions for yourself. A third document you need to complete is the power of attorney for finances and property, which appoints someone to handle your financial matters if you become incapacitated.
    • Make sure that all of your family members hear directly from you about your wishes for your final days. Failing health often divides people since some family members and friends want every medical procedure done – and then some – to extend a loved one’s life, even if it diminishes the person’s quality of life. Having those conversations about your final wishes can be difficult but you need to have them with every family member, even those you are not really close to, in order to avoid what Mr. Kasem is facing.
    • Caregivers need to really come to terms with death. The news reports seem to indicate that Jean Kasem really didn’t want to understand that her husband was dying and, instead, was holding out hope that some other treatment could be found to help him continue to live. While holding out hope, she may have allowed him to suffer greater physical harm through the development of the bed sore that became infected. Therefore, I believe that there comes a point when caregivers need to make the decision to let a loved one die. It’s not an easy decision to make, but it also is the right one for the loved one with dementia who is in failing health, for the caregiver and for the family.

    Primary Sources for This Sharepost:

  • Houston Chronicle. (2014). Kasem daughter gets authority to withhold food.

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    McDonald, S. N. (2014). Police find Casey Kasem after his daughter files missing persons report. Washington Post.

    Moyer, J. (2014). Casey Kasem near death. Washington Post.

    Washington Department of Health Services. (2014). Consumer guide to health care.

Published On: June 12, 2014