A husband having sex with his now mentally and physically incapacitated wife: Is it ethical and is it even legal?
The 29 year old wife, 5 years ago, suffered a very severe traumatic brain injury from an automobile accident and despite long attempts at rehabilitation now lives at home under the attention and care of her husband who must also attend to the care of their own sons from earlier in their marriage. The wife is apparently alert sufficiently to show some response to visual, auditory and tactile stimulation but is unable to talk or communicate any decisions. She is paralyzed, unable to walk or move on her own, incontinent and unable to attend to her own personal care and has required tube feedings.
A few months ago, the wife became pregnant and the pregnancy was terminated by her physicians in her health interest. Despite the husband arguing that he and his wife were in a loving sexual relationship throughout their marriage, that he never divorced and abandoned her after her accident and that he believed based on his experience with her in the past and her current responses that she wanted the loving sexual relationship to continue despite her handicaps, the wife’s family considered the acts of having sex with the incapacitated wife as rape. They notified the police and started legal guardianship proceedings.
You are the ethicist and you are the judge. Were the husband’s sexual actions ethical? Were they, in fact, legal? What facts and what issues would be important to know and consider in answering these questions?
This scenario, as written here, was adapted from a case study “Sexuality and a Severely Brain-Injured Spouse” in the ethics journal “The Hastings Center Report” May-June 2010.http://www.thehastingscenter.org/Publications/HCR/Detail.aspx?id=4656 There are three separate commentaries by ethicists there but I hope my visitors would answer my question here before looking at their responses. ..Maurice.