Relational autonomy in action: Rethinking dementia and sexuality in care facilities

Nursing Ethics 26 (6):1654-1664 (2019)

Authors
Laura Guidry-Grimes
Georgetown University
Abstract
Background: Caregivers and administrators in long-term facilities have fragile moral work in caring for residents with dementia. Residents are susceptible to barriers and vulnerabilities associated with the most intimate aspects of their lives, including how they express themselves sexually. The conditions for sexual agency are directly affected by caregivers’ perceptions and attitudes, as well as facility policies. Objective: This article aims to clarify how to approach capacity determinations as it relates to sexual activity, propose how to theorize about patient autonomy in this context, and suggest some considerations for finding an ethically responsible and practically feasible way to respect the sexual rights of this population. Research Design: The focus is on residents with early to moderate dementia in states of daily dependency on professional caregivers. The article critically examines existing empirical research on sexuality among persons with dementia, caregivers’ attitudes, and institutional roadblocks to enabling residents’ sexuality. A relational lens and insights from disability studies are used in the philosophical analysis. Participants and Research Context: No research participants were part of this analysis. Ethical Considerations: This article offers a conceptual analysis and normative framework only. Findings: The analysis highlights the delicate balance that capacity assessments for sexual activity have to strike; while caregivers should protect those who cannot give adequate consent, the denial of sexuality among residents can cause deep, long-ranging harms. Sexual agency features into an ongoing sense of self for many individuals with dementia, and the imposition of inappropriate standards and expectations for sexual autonomy can lead to unwarranted obstacles to sexual activity. Discussion: Recommendations include developing clear and inclusive institutional policies and practices of care, providing education for caregivers on how to discuss and document residents’ sexual preferences over time, and taking advantage of ethics consultation services. Conclusion: This analysis establishes the need for more research and discussion on this sensitive topic. Future research should investigate the specific responsibilities of caregivers in furthering the sexual interests of residents, how exactly to modify existing capacity instruments, and how best to support historically marginalized patients in their sexual identities.
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DOI 10.1177/0969733018780527
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References found in this work BETA

Caring and Internality.Agnieszka Jaworska - 2007 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 74 (3):529-568.
Personal Identity, Narrative Integration, and Embodiment.Catriona Mackenzie - 2009 - In Sue Campbell, Letitia Meynell & Susan Sherwin (eds.), Embodiment and Agency. Pennsylvania State University Press. pp. 100--125.
The Persistence of Agency Through Social Institutions and Caring for Future Generations.Elizabeth Victor & Laura Guidry-Grimes - 2014 - Ijfab: International Journal of Feminist Approaches to Bioethics 7 (1):122-141.

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