Late DJ Casey Kasem's daughter lobbies in Annapolis for family visitation rights

Elisha Sauers
Casey Kasem's daughter lobbies for visitation for family of ailing parents in Annapolis. #MDGA16

When “American Top 40” disc jockey Casey Kasem died at 82, the L.A. radio host was remembered for his famously smooth voice.

Two years since his death, one of his daughters is using her own voice to prevent other adult children from going through the ordeal she experienced in her father’s final months.

Kerri Kasem, 43, visited Annapolis Thursday to testify in the Maryland legislature on a measure to protect visitation rights for friends or family members of sick, disabled or dying people.

While Casey struggled with Lewy Body Dementia, a progressive brain disorder, his three children from his first marriage said their stepmother barred them from seeing him. Jean Thompson Kasem, who had been married to Casey for many years, moved him from his California nursing home to Nevada, then Washington state. His children, including Kerri, said they were never told about the plans.

“Starting a year before my dad died, his wife literally just said, ‘You’re going to have to get used to not seeing your dad anymore,’” Kerri said.

She spent “hundreds of thousands of dollars” in court battles to see her father.

Del. Sid Saab, R-Crownsville, is the primary sponsor of the bill in the House of Delegates. Sen. Ed Reilly, R-Crofton, is a sponsor of the companion bill in the state Senate.

House Bill 43 makes a guardian inform a disabled person’s family if the person has been hospitalized for three or more days or has died. It also requires the guardian to notify the family of funeral arrangements and the burial location if the person dies.

For the bill’s advocates, perhaps the most important part of the proposed law is the ability for an adult child to file a petition in court to gain visitation. Today, no provision in Maryland law addresses adult children’s rights to visit a parent without having to file a petition for guardianship. A judge cannot rule on visitation alone.

“It solves a problem that a lot of us don’t even know exists,” Saab said prior to a hearing in the House Judiciary Committee. “None of us can imagine not being able to see our parents, especially when they’re sick. When you’re sick, you know you don’t have the luxury of time.”

Kerri is traveling around the country to lobby on legislation, with her next stop in Virginia. About a dozen similar bills are currently under consideration. Lawmakers in California, Texas and Iowa have passed similar policies.

Kathleen Wright-Brawn also testified Thursday in favor of the bill. She said caretakers isolated her father, who was wealthy, in Washington state from her and her siblings when he became ill.

But two senior advocacy groups are opposing the legislation. They each submitted letters saying the law could create a hardship for public guardians because of the administrative and legal costs associated with the extra tasks mandated in the bill. State funding for public guardians is limited, they said.

The Maryland Senior Citizens Action Network called it an “onerous” imposition for public guardians, who are provided through a last resort program. The organization suggested carving out public guardians from the legislation if the committee decides to advance it.
The committee could vote on the bill later this session.

On the same day as the bill hearing, death-with-dignity advocates announced in a news conference they will push again this year for a law allowing terminally ill patients in Maryland to access medication to end their lives. Kerri, whose father had a do-not-resuscitate request, said in an interview with The Capital she would have liked her father to have that choice.

“Knowing that his organs were failing,” she said, “he wouldn’t have had to sit for seven days and suffer to his death. So do I believe in it? Yes, absolutely.”

Saab and Kasem’s shared Lebanese heritage may have helped the two connect on the family visitation bill. Saab, who was friends with Kerri on Facebook, was following the story of her father’s ordeal. He reached out to her and said he’d like to bring a bill to Annapolis.

The two later learned they were in Lebanon at the same time before they knew each other. Saab also discovered a photo in a book on Lebanese culture of his dad standing next to one of Kerri’s relatives.

“I kind of believe in signs,” she said.

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