The Ethics of Sex and Alzheimer's
Routledge – 2014 – 224 pages
A growing epidemic, Alzheimer’s punishes not only its victims but also those married to them. This book analyzes how Alzheimer’s is quietly transforming the way we think about love today. Without meaning to become rebels, many people who find themselves "married to Alzheimer’s" deflate the predominant notion of a conventional marriage. By falling in love again before their ill spouse dies, those married to Alzheimer’s come into conflict with central values of Western civilization – personal, sexual, familial, religious, and political. Those who wait sadly for a spouse’s death must sometimes wonder if the show of fidelity is necessary and whom it helps.
Most books on Alzheimer’s focus on those who have it, as opposed to those who care for someone with it. This book offers a powerful and searching meditation on the extent to which someone married to Alzheimer’s should be expected to suffer loneliness. The diagnosis of dementia should not amount to a prohibition of sexual activity for both spouses. Portmann encourages readers to risk honesty in assessing the moral dilemma, using high-profile cases such as Nancy Reagan and Justice Sandra Day O'Connor to illustrate the enormity of the problem. Ideal for classes considering the ethics of aging and sexuality.
John Portmann is Associate Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Virginia. He studied philosophy at Yale and Cambridge Universities. He is the author of When Bad Things Happen to Other People (2000), Sex and Heaven (2003), and A History of Sin (2007).