Sex and ObliviousnessJune 20, 2010
Neil Levy has this interesting post over at Practical Ethics:
An interesting case is reported in the most recent issue of the Hastings Center Report. Mrs Z, is a 29 year-old woman who was released into her husband’s care following a traumatic brain injury. She is in a minimally conscious state (MCI), a state of severely impaired consciousness. MCI cases cover a range of cognitive deficits; Mrs Z seems to be at the lower end of cognitive functioning. She is unable to speak and requires 24 hour care, provided by her husband (who is also the guardian of their 4 year-old twins).
Recently she was found to be suffering abdominal pain. An examination revealed that she was pregnant (the pregnancy was terminated for health reasons). Mrs Z’s brothers have now applied for guardianship of her, and have asked police to file rape charges against her husband. Mr Z has replied that she would have wanted to continue a physical relationship with him, and that he is still married to her. He seems to suggest that he will continue to have a sexual relationship with her if she remains in his care.
I really like this case. It’s deeply vexing, but I’m inclined to agree with Levy’s conclusions.
It does seem plausible that as a way of showing genuine love to his wife, Mr Z may well do exactly that by having aconsensual sex with his wife. What it seems to me he is not justified in doing, however, is in having aconsensual procreative sex with his wife. At least, I can imagine a few circumstances where this wouldn’t be nearly as problematic as it first appears.
I do think, however, that it does raise a great many questions about the nature of the sex that Mr. Z is having with his wife, where a determination of its appropriateness will have to boil down to a state of affairs that only he has access too assess. And this privateness may, ultimately, be a problem for Mr. Z. If his reasons are so private that they cannot be made available to the scrutiny of outside parties — at least those acting as proxies on his wife’s behalf — then there is some question as to whether the reasons that he has can or ought to count as reasons.
I’ll have to think a little more about this tonight and try to integrate this example into a future presentation of mine.