Trial weighs whether wife with dementia was able to consent to sex

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — A 78-year-old former Iowa lawmaker is set to stand trial on charges that he sexually assaulted his wife when she was no longer capable of legally consenting to have sex.

Henry Rayhons' trial is scheduled to start on Wednesday. His wife Donna Lou Rayhons died last August, days before he was formally charged.

Donna Lou Rayhons was moved into a nursing home last year, suffering from dementia. Soon after, staff told Henry Rayhons at a meeting that his wife was no longer capable of legally consenting to have sex. Prosecutors allege he ignored the message.

Many couples experience illness, but what happened with the Rayhons has little precedent. Experts could not think of another rape case that involved a previously consenting spouse who could no longer legally acquiesce.

Rayhons' story was profiled Monday in a story titled 'Sex, Dementia and a Husband on trial at Age 78' in the New York Times. The story alleges that in the days before Donna was placed in a nursing home, she could not remember her daughters' names or how to eat a hamburger. But some experts argue sex can still be consensual long into dementia, and there is no allegation that Mrs. Rayhons resisted or showed signs of abuse.

It is widely agreed that the Rayhonses had a loving relationship, the Times reported.

The case brings to light an ever-pressing questions, the Times reported. One that will become more pressing as Baby Boomers continue to age:

How can anyone determine whether a person with dementia can say yes to sex? Who has the right to decide?

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