It appears that the life of famed Top 40 Countdown host Casey Kasem is nearly at an end. Last Wednesday, a Los Angeles Judge ruled that Casey Kasem’s daughter, Kerri Kasem, could suspend the artificial delivery of food and water to Casey due to his grave suffering.
Specifically, according to the Los Angeles Times, Kerri Kasem’s attorney filed documents with the court reporting the doctors’ conclusion that “continuation of artificial nutrition and hydration is not in the patient’s best interests because it will at best prolong the dying process for him and will certainly add suffering to an already terribly uncomfortable dying process.”
On Tuesday, the same Judge granted the request of Casey’s wife, Jean Kasem, who asked that Kerri be ordered to resume infusions of food, water and medicine for the ailing Casey. He has been hospitalized in critical condition with sepsis (serious infections that have reached the blood stream), other infections, bed sores, and late-stage dementia from Lewy Body disease, among other complications.
Jean Kasem, Casey’s wife of 34 years, was so upset she stormed out of the courtroom, yelling “You have blood on your hands!” Her attorney then said, “You just imposed a death sentence.” Jean has issued frequent dramatic statements of this nature. During the prior day’s hearing, Jean’s attorney accused Casey’s daughter, Kerri, of deliberately hastening Casey’s death so that she could cash in on a large life insurance policy — a charge which Kerri’s attorney strongly refuted.
The big question that will need to be explored, likely after Casey passes, is how he deteriorated to this critical condition so rapidly. Contrary to Jean’s attention-grabbing accusations, she — not Casey’s daughter — will be the one to answer this difficult question. Her management of Casey’s care in the last few weeks has been troubling, to say the least.
Casey Kasem’s Rapid Descent Into Critical Condition
On May 6th, Kerri and her sister were allowed to visit Casey in the nursing home he resided in. They found him doing fairly well and in good spirits, despite his confusion, memory loss, and trouble speaking. Physically, at least, he appeared to be fine, according to Kerri at the time.
Just after that visit, however, Casey Kasem was suddenly missing. Jean had secretly removed him from the nursing home, even skipping a court hearing about Casey’s care. Because of Casey’s unexplained whereabouts, Kerri was given legal authority by the Judge to make his medical and other decisions, through a conservatorship.
Kerri reached out to authorities in a frantic search to find her father, eventually learning that he had been staying with friends in the State of Washington. Jean reportedly took him there “on vacation.”
Kerri was finally able to see him again on June 1st, after a Judge in Washington ordered she could visit and have Casey evaluated by a physician. Kerri arrived with paramedics, concerned over Casey’s well-being. She found Casey to be in serious condition, and instructed that her father be taken by ambulance to a local hospital. Jean became so irate, she yelled at Kerri in front of several witnesses and threw a pound of raw meat towards her.
Jean explained her action by telling NBC News that she had been following what was (according to her) a King James verse: “In the name of King of David, I threw a piece of raw meat into the street in exchange for my husband to the wild rabid dogs.” Jean complained that Casey was being ripped from his family and was very upset to leave, even though he could not talk or otherwise communicate.
When he was hospitalized, Casey was found to have serious bed sores and infections in his lungs and bladder. These are conditions that typically can be prevented with proper care (such as that available in a good nursing home), and can potentially be fatal to someone of Casey’s condition and advanced age (82).
Indeed, based on the events of this week, it certainly appears that Casey will not survive. Instead of striving to continue efforts to keep him alive (and suffering), Kerri gave permission for comfort care to be provided. While Jean obviously blames Kerri for this, it was Jean’s recent actions that may have caused his terminal condition. If he had remained in the nursing home, bed sores and infections could have been prevented, or at least prompt medical care could have been provided when they were first discovered.
Casey Kasem Signed A Critical Health Care Directive
The reason that Kerri was able to win legal authority to end Casey’s suffering stems from a legal document he signed in 2007, called a health care directive. Sometimes, documents of this nature are called living wills or medical power of attorney, but they all can play the same role — allowing a trusted loved one to end life support when it appears that the suffering is too severe and the hope of recovery too slim.
In 2007, after Casey Kasem was diagnosed with Lewy Body disease, he executed such a document and appointed Kerri, his daughter from a prior marriage, instead of his wife, Jean, to make his medical and end-of-life decisions. The document stated that Casey did not want to be kept alive if it “would result in a mere biological existence, devoid of cognitive function, with no reasonable hope for normal functioning.” Casey’s document nominated Kerri, not Jean, to make the important decision of when it was time to honor this wish and effectively end Casey’s life.
This is a sad story, with what certainly appears to be a tragic ending. No one knows how long Casey could have lived, or how much enjoyment he could have had during the rest of his life, if he had remained in the nursing home. Casey, through his 2007 health care directive, and two different judges felt that Kerri — not Jean — should manage his care. Yet Jean’s act of transporting Casey to Washington deprived Kerri of the chance to treat his terminal medical conditions sooner.
Hopefully Casey Kasem’s dramatic story can teach important lessons to others about end of life planning. Every adult over the age of 18 — especially older adults — need to execute health care directive documents, such as Casey Kasem’s, in case they ever suffer a debilitating injury or disease. Very few people would want to suffer indefinitely with no quality of life or reasonable hope of recovery. Because Casey planned ahead and chose the person he most trusted to make the right decision, his suffering can now end.
But the question of whether Jean’s actions constituted elder neglect or abuse that resulted in Casey’s suffering and, ultimately, his death is one that cannot yet be answered. Perhaps there is more to this story than has come to light publicly, to justify Jean’s actions. If not, and if the reports of the last few weeks are accurate, then Jean should be held to answer for what happened. Elder abuse is a silent epidemic in our country, and it comes in all shapes and sizes.
Mickey Rooney‘s family knows about it all too well. In his sad story, the harm was primarily financial, not physical. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Casey Kasem.
Everyone should be on guard against elder neglect and abuse, especially when there is a family member with dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, Lewy Body disease, or advanced Parkinson’s disease. Kerri was proactive and seems to have done all she could to protect her father, in spite of very unusual circumstances. But her struggle is not uncommon. Milllions of seniors are abused every year. This is not a problem confined to the rich or famous — far from it, in fact.
Perhaps others can be saved by increased awareness caused by Casey Kasem’s tragedy.
Update: Casey Kasem passed away on Father's Day, June 15, 2014. We express our sincere condolences to the entire Kasem family.
By Danielle and Andrew Mayoras, co-authors of Trial & Heirs: Famous Fortune Fights! For the latest celebrity and high-profile cases, with tips to protect yourself, your loved ones, and your clients, click here to subscribe to The Trial & Heirs Update. You can “like” them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter and Google+.