Casey Kasem’s End-of-Life Lessons

Jun 23, 2014 | 2 comments

Casey Kasem

Casey Kasem

It’s a riveting celebrity end-of-life story, featuring an unpredictable second wife feuding with her husband’s kids from his first marriage. Casey Kasem’s final months and weeks provide compelling lessons on end-of-life, blended families, and why one needs advance directives.

Casey Kasem died June 15, 2014, at the age of 82. He was the driving force and voice behind American Top 40, a weekly roundup of music hits that graced radio airwaves from 1970 to 2009. He also provided the voice for cartoon character Shaggy in the Scooby-Doo TV series.

He retired in 2009, suffering from Lewy body disease, which can cause Parkinson’s-like symptoms as well as dementia. He was being cared for in a Los Angeles area nursing home. As his health worsened in 2013, his second wife of 34 years, Jean Kasem, prevented any contact with her husband, particularly by the children from his first marriage.

In May, 2014, she moved Kasem, without telling his children, to the home of friends in the state of Washington. Jean had been fighting daughter Kerri Kasem in courts in Washington state and Los Angeles over his care, his assets, and who had decision-making powers.

During the month that followed, Kasem took a rapid descent into critical condition. He was hospitalized with sepsis (blood poisoning), infected bed sores, lungs, and bladder, and other complications from his dementia.

Casey Kasem had 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 he 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.”

As late as June 9, a judge ruled in Jean Kasem’s favor that Casey should be fed, hydrated and medicated. The next day, that ruling was suspended in Kerri Kasem’s favor because artificial nutrition and hydration would prolong the dying process and add to his suffering.

Kerri Kasem won legal authority to end her father’s suffering thanks to the health care directive he signed in 2007. Sometimes called living wills or medical power of attorney, this document allows a trusted loved one to end life support in the face of severe suffering and slim hope of recovery.

Who knows best in these kinds of situations when the patient can’t talk? Who should be informed and consulted on end-of-life, nursing homes, and other such decisions? Is it the current spouse, the kids, or someone else? This is where advance healthcare directives and other written documents are so important.

This sad story illustrates the issues that can arise within any family, whether they are a one-marriage unit or blended by second or third marriages. Casey Kasem’s rough ending provides vital lessons for end-of-life care.

  • Set out your health care wishes in writing, should you be unable to verbally communicate your health care wishes to others. Every adult over the age of 18 — especially older adults — needs to execute advance health care directive documents, in case they ever suffer a debilitating injury or disease, with no quality of life or reasonable hope of recovery.
  • Execute a Power of Attorney (POA) document. A POA appoints someone to make decisions on your behalf, for your property and/or personal care, when you are no longer capable of making such decisions yourself.
  • Consider a guardianship and conservatorship. In cases where there’s no health care directives or Power of Attorney executed by someone who is now incapable, a loved one may apply to the court to be granted a guardianship over the incapable person’s personal care or conservatorship over his/her property. On May 12, Kerri Kasem was granted temporary guardianship over her father, despite her stepmother’s objection.
  • Be specific about life support preferences. Do you know whether your loved one would want to be put on or taken off life support? In Casey Kasem’s situation, his daughter knew he did not want to live on life support. By addressing this issue in his advance health care directive, he made a difficult and emotional decision much easier for her.
  • Keep the decision-makers named in these documents up-to-date with marital changes. You likely don’t want the ex-spouse making life and death decisions after the divorce is final.

Even with his advance directives on file, there was still a family fight over what Casey Kasem would have wanted in end-of-life care. All too often, these disagreements erupt among families and they can’t be avoided.

Think about that distant relative who flies in at the last minute and demands everything be done to save the life, irrespective of the quality of that life. Having the wishes in writing can help spare the dying person from enduring medical intervention they don’t want.

After Casey Kasem died in a hospital in Gig Harbor, Washington, on June 15, his body was handed over to his widow Jean to make the funeral arrangements. Here is yet another opportunity for family discord, best addressed by making funeral plans before there’s a death in the family. But that’s another article.

You can read a collection of online news stories about the Casey Kasem saga through this Family Plot Blog post.

A Good Goodbye