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Navigating the Ethical Terrain of Sexuality and Aging

The sexual embrace can only be compared with music and with prayer.
- Marcus Aurelius

Deb Bennett-Woods explores ethical concepts that can facilitate decision-making in both individual cases and institutional policy.  Sexuality and sexual intimacy are core elements of human identity.  Although their expression may evolve and change over the lifespan, they don’t simply disappear with age as many of us would prefer when faced with the prospect of sexual activity in elderly relatives or clients.  Efforts by family or service providers to minimize or eliminate sexual intimacy, whether it be the blossoming romance of a widowed parent or the living arrangements of married nursing home residents who are frail or have diminished decisional capacity, are often well intended and sometimes necessary.  However, such restrictions can come at a high cost to the elders involved.  Dignity, autonomy and independence are threatened.  The harmful impact to health and well-being may be greater than any perceived benefits of safety.   Restrictions based on personal bias, stereotypes, misinformation, or just facility convenience are unjust and may constitute a violation of fundamental rights to privacy and liberty.  At the same time, elders can be vulnerable and the duty to protect and promote their well-being forces us to walk a fine line between competing ethical obligations.

Deb Bennett-Woods is a professor in the Division of Health Services Education and serves in the Center for Ethics and Leadership in the Health Professions at Regis University in Denver, CO.  She currently teaches courses with an applied focus in health care ethics across all graduate and undergraduate programs in the Rueckert-Hartman College for Health Professions.  Prior to 2000, she was the Director of the Department of Health Services Administration where she administered a variety of programs.  Deb is a frequent conference speaker and has published on a range of topics in the areas of ethics and leadership, including her book Nanotechnology: Ethics and Society.   Her primary research and scholarship has been in the area of emerging technologies in health care. 

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