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Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Iowa politician charged with sexual assault after sex with his wife who had Alzheimers

The National Post is carrying a story about Henry Rayhons of Iowa. Mr. Rayhons, who is 78, is charged with sexual assault after allegedly having sex with his wife while her Alzheimer's disease was so severe that she could not have consented to having sex. She lived in a long-term care facility and the event allegedly happened in her room there.

This is a tricky situation, legally speaking. Obviously nobody should have sex without having given consent to it. The questions are more complicated than that. Assuming that a sexual act took place, was Mrs. Rayhons able to consent? Did she know he was her husband (the facts given in the article would suggest that she probably did not)? Does the fact that she had Alzheimer's mean that she can never give consent, on any occasion? Who should decide these things? If she had a Health Care Directive in place, does that person have the right to give or withhold consent?

If you held a Health Care Directive for your parents, how would you feel about making this decision?

Obviously this is a collision between freedom of choice and legal capacity. Any decision made by the courts won't be an easy one, and it will have far-reaching effects. Given the changing demographics and an aging population, this is an issue that will concern tens of thousands of people. It's an American story, but the issue is just as relevant here in Canada.

Click here to read more about this case at I'll be watching for the decision in this case with great interest.

The attached photo of Henry Rayhons appeared in the National Post article, and is credited to Daniel Acker/Bloomberg.


  1. Is it relevant that she knew it was her husband? Either way she needs to give consent. Are we saying that when a person is no longer mentally competent they can't have sex unless the person holding the healthcare directive (if there is one) approves it? It will be interesting to see where this goes.

    1. Yes, I see what you mean by your comment about knowing it was her husband. I certainly didn't mean to imply that she didn't have to consent if she knew it was him! Yes, it will be very interesting to see where this goes. I'm not sure I'd want to be a judge who has to decide this.



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