Scientific Contribution

Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy

, Volume 17, Issue 3, pp 377-387

First online:

Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind? An anthropological-ethical framework for understanding and dealing with sexuality in dementia care

  • Lieslot MahieuAffiliated withFaculty of Medicine, Centre for Biomedical Ethics and Law, KU Leuven Email author 
  • , Luc AnckaertAffiliated withInstitute of Philosophy, Centre for Ethics, Social and Political Philosophy, KU Leuven
  • , Chris GastmansAffiliated withFaculty of Medicine, Centre for Biomedical Ethics and Law, KU Leuven

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Contemporary bioethics pays considerable attention to the ethical aspects of dementia care. However, ethical issues of sexuality especially as experienced by institutionalized persons with dementia are often overlooked. The relevant existing ethics literature generally applies an implicit philosophical anthropology that favors the principle of respect for autonomy and the concomitant notion of informed consent. In this article we will illustrate how this way of handling the issue fails in its duty to people with dementia. Our thesis is that a more inclusive philosophical anthropology is needed that also heeds the fate of this growing population. Drawing on the tradition of phenomenology, we will chalk out an anthropological framework that rests on four fundamental characteristics of human existence: the decentered self, human embodiment, being-in-the-world and being-with-others. Our aim in this article is thus to tentatively put forward a broader perspective for looking at aged sexuality in institutionalized people with dementia. Hopefully the developed framework will mark the beginning of a new and refreshed ethical reflection on the topic at hand.


Dementia Ethics Nursing home Personhood Philosophy Sexuality