What if My Mother’s Extramarital Cravings Are Linked to Dementia?

Question:

My mother is in her mid-50s, which is the time at which people can develop frontotemporal degeneration (FTD), a form of dementia she is at risk for. Symptoms of FTD include a lack of inhibition or social tact and unusual verbal, physical or sexual behavior. My father and I have at times worried that she may be exhibiting the beginnings of other symptoms. A few years ago, she consulted with a doctor, but no diagnosis was made. I think it is pertinent to note that there is currently no cure for FTD…. I recently found out that my mother has been seeking sexual relations through various online platforms, and I am fairly certain that her efforts have come to fruition. I think it is fair to say that these relations have come to be because of a “lack of inhibition”; in addition, I believe that these sexual relations have included things that, for her, would have previously been considered “unusual sexual behavior.” … If, however, this is a sign that she is developing FTD, I feel that it is pertinent for my family to know of the situation. If I bring this up with my family and it turns out not to be related to the development of FTD, it could cause irreparable harm to her relationship with my father and my brothers. If I choose to discuss this with only her and she is later diagnosed with FTD, I worry that the disease might have been diagnosed sooner if this behavior had come to light … My mother is the one who manages both of my parents’ finances. When my grandmother was diagnosed with FTD, my mother and aunt took control of her finances. My mother also noted that perhaps the FTD explained a few strange financial decisions that my grandmother had taken in the years before her diagnosis. If, in fact, my mother is developing FTD, it could pose a risk to my parents’ finances and thus both of their lives after my father’s retirement.

Correct answer:

Suppose there was no question at all of dementia, and you discovered that your mother was conducting multiple extramarital affairs – in perfect physical and mental health. Why wouldn’t you tell your father in that case? She could contract a venereal disease and transmit it to him – your own father! You would be right to tell him and wrong to conceal it from him.

All the more so given the likelihood that your mother is developing dementia, and that you know that this can lead not only to destructive sexual behavior but also to destructive financial behavior.

You must tell your father. Whether you do this immediately, or whether you do it after discussing the matter with your mother and her doctor, is your own decision, but you can not treat it as your decision to allow your mother’s possible mental illness to destroy your family members’ lives.

Question:

My sister is in her 80s and lives alone in a rented apartment in a Canadian city where she moved nearly 60 years ago. Her formerly strong network of friends and acquaintances is dissolving as they age, sicken and die or lose the energy and patience to deal with her.
In my opinion, she has a hoarding disorder and the beginnings of dementia, and she has had problems maintaining her apartment to the landlord’s satisfaction. She also has trouble dealing with documents, paying bills and scammers. She never became a Canadian citizen, and her Canadian and American identification have both expired so she can no longer travel.
I am in my 70s and live hundreds of miles away in the United States. I have a husband, an adult child and grandchildren, for whom I provide a lot of child care. My sister is behind my other family in my priorities, and frankly she drives my husband and me crazy. I am not willing to relocate to Canada or have her live with my husband and me.
She has refused to give me power of attorney so that I can deal with financial institutions when she has been scammed or has neglected to pay bills. For some time, she refused to admit that she has any “memory problems” or to consult her doctor. She does not want anyone messing around in her business.
I see her a few days each year, during which I try to touch base with the last of her friends, do some cleaning and decluttering, have some fun with her and yes, nag her to make some changes. If she continues to refuse help, may I be excused from feeling guilty?

Correct answer:

This is a lot of lead-up to a question about whether you ought to continue feeling guilty or not.

If “feeling guilty” is keeping you up at night and preventing you from living your own life, despite doing your reasonable best to help your sister, then yes, you may be excused from feeling guilty. But if “feeling guilty” is what is driving you to try to help your sister in the first place, and what you really want is permission to stop helping her, then you should not stop entirely – but you may adapt what help you offer to what you think she is likely to accept.

We Sponsor Refugees. What to Do About Their Patriarchal Ways?

Question:

I am a member of a group that has sponsored a family of refugees from rural Syria… group members signed up all four children — two boys and two girls — for soccer programs…. the parents always made some excuse about why their daughters couldn’t go…. in their family, girls aren’t allowed to participate in programs outside of the home, a decidedly nonegalitarian attitude if there ever was one. Here’s the dilemma: There are those who don’t want to enroll any of the children in future recreational programs because of the family’s highly conservative attitudes toward females. Others feel that this would make the group guilty of imposing its value system on a refugee family and, by extension, just end up hurting the young sons. Who’s right?

Correct answer:

Charity can be a wonderful thing, but beware that sometimes an attempt to do good can have the perverse effect of creating negative externalities on the wider community, and that other people may end up paying – perhaps in money, or perhaps in the form of weaker communities – for your good feelings. This is wrong.

Refugee resettlement is often good, but it can not be treated unequivocally as an unqualified good. When you make the private decision sponsor middle eastern refugees for settlement in the United States, you are taking responsibility for how they will behave. If they behave well and make net-positive contributions to American society, it’s a credit to you. If they behave poorly and degrade American society, you must be held accountable.

Your personal project has introduced behavior that you find disagreeable, and unsurprisingly this has caused a wedge to be driven into the refugee sponsorship group. You and the group as a whole must make amends to the community, and you must commit to cease sponsoring further refugees without guarantees that they will not disrupt the community’s values.

Question:

I am a lifelong runner, and after graduating from college this spring, I am in my first few months in a new city…. On my intercollegiate team, running with no shirt or, for women, a sports bra and short shorts was the norm in hot weather … Since I arrived in my new community, however, I have gotten the sense that this is not a look that people regularly encounter, and I worry that I am making them uncomfortable…. I am not breaking any local indecent-exposure laws, but community norms also have value…. Should I feel an ethical obligation to change my running clothing to something more modest in order to avoid offending the sensibilities of the people I encounter, or is it acceptable to continue to wear what is most comfortable to me based on the weather?

Correct answer:

You’re a grown man. As a rule, when you go into public, wear clothing. If you need me to list the reasonable exceptions to this rule, then you are in fact not a grown man.

Question:

I am in my mid-50s and self-employed, and had a heart attack last year. Fortunately, the heart-attack treatment was covered under Obamacare. I continue to pay for Obamacare, but given that it’s a new year, I am concerned that my follow-up treatment won’t be covered until my $6,500 deductible is reached. I currently don’t have the finances to cover the follow-up treatment: Is it unethical to get it and hope to find a way to pay for it later?

Correct answer:

It is unethical to purchase something without a way to pay for it, because doing so is theft, and it doesn’t become less “thefty” if you’re asking about stealing from a hospital or a doctor. If my reading of the question is correct, the cost of the followup treatment is less than the $6,500 deductible. If that is the case, it should not be too difficult to negotiate the bill down and/or to find a charity that will be willing to pay for some of it.

By the way, for someone who seems awfully enthusiastic about “Obamacare,” it seems odd that you don’t seem to have a problem with a $6,500 deductible.

Question:

I grew up in a typical small town in the South that enshrined the Civil War with a statue of a Confederate soldier beside the courthouse. A childhood friend, who became a professional artist of some note, painted a picture of the courthouse, which my mother bought for me as a gift because of my connection to the artist. The picture has been hanging in my home since the 1970s…. The Confederate statue is not a prominent focal point in the impressionistic painting. I had never paid much attention to it until the current uproar over the actual statues caused me — a raging white liberal on issues of civil rights — to do soul-searching about whether I wish to give such a symbol any space in my home. I am torn, of course, between keeping a gift from my beloved deceased mother that few will ever see besides me and my family and taking it down….

Correct answer:

You are filled with terrible and irrational self-loathing that causes you to put the day’s political fashions over a detail in a painting that you enjoy, that was a gift from your mother, that was created by your friend, that has been hanging in your home for four decades, that is barely even noticeable, that will hardly ever be seen, and that is not even offensive.

This is actual insanity, and if I didn’t already know that people like you existed, I would be sure that you were a troll.

Sell the painting on ebay and donate the proceeds to charity. Then spend the rest of your life in shame.

Can I Talk to My Dad About His Affair?

Question:

My mother recently let slip that my father had an affair several years ago…. The news was a devastating shock. Immediately after her disclosure, my mother told me that I could never tell my father that I knew…. they decided to keep it a secret … my interactions with my father have felt stilted…. My gut tells me that I should have a conversation with him about what happened in order to move on, but I also believe I have an ethical obligation to respect my mother’s wishes…. Should I hope that forgiveness comes with time, or risk broaching this difficult topic with my father?

Correct answer:

Your mother was not supposed to tell anybody this information, but she violated her ethical obligation to your father by telling you. In doing so, she also put you in a very difficult situation – you know information that you’re not supposed to know – and extracted a promise from you not to share it with anybody. Now you’re not supposed to tell anybody this information, so… you think it would be a good idea to tell your father? How does that make sense?

If you promise not to tell a secret, keep your damn promise. If you don’t intend to keep your promises, then stop promising things.

Question:

My sister-in-law, her ex and her children have bankrupted my in-laws by taking advantage of their generosity over the years. My in-laws have little for retirement and recently had to sell their house. My sister-in-law and her family are now in a better financial situation, spending on vacations and cars. How can I encourage them to repay my in-laws in some way? … Each time they bring up the latest vacation or new car, I feel sick.

Correct answer:

How can I encourage them to repay my in-laws in some way? You can do it like this: “I encourage you to repay [my in-laws] in some way.”

But you’re probably anticipating that saying something like that would feel awkward, and that’s because it does and should feel awkward to interfere into other families’ money issues.

It would be a good idea to stay out of this, but if you do choose to get involved:

  • Bring it up once, and never bring it up again.
  • Don’t dance around the issue. Be clear about what you’re suggesting.
  • If they tell you that you’re wrong to have said anything, apologize immediately.

Should Buyers Be Told About the Killer Next Door?

Question:

I live in a one-family house adjacent to the house of a family whose son was a serial killer 25 years ago. He was 20 at the time and killed two people. He was recently released and now lives there. My son will inherit our house after us and plans to live elsewhere closer to work.
He wonders if he is morally obliged to inform prospective buyers about the neighbor’s history.

Correct answer:

Morally obliged? No. But ethics is more complex than morality due to the situational nature of ethical systems.

Buyers and sellers in any transaction have ethical obligations to one another, and this increases with the size and scope of the transaction. The purchase or sale of a home is usually the biggest, or one of the few biggest, financial transactions in someone’s life. As the seller of a home who’s going to deal with the buyer of a home, your son must disclose negative information about the home to its buyer.

This does not mean that your son is obliged to convince prospective buyers not to buy his home. That would be crazy. He doesn’t need to make yard signs about the-serial-killer-next-door or bring up the-serial-killer-next-door right away in any conversation. He just needs to show the same basic decency that he would show if a ten lane highway was going to be built next door, or if a heroin rehab facility or sewage processing plant was next door.

Question:

I am Facebook friends with a well-known practitioner in my field. I’ve never met him… I saw a bunch of posts in my Facebook feed featuring pictures and such from a somewhat flamboyant blond woman with the same last name as this fellow…. I assumed she was his spouse, and I’d somehow accepted her friend request. There were a lot of posts that I was not interested in … I quickly unfriended her…. she had just come out as trans. She was formerly he … I feel terrible. I would never unfriend someone for coming out as transgender….

Correct answer:

There is no obligation to initiate or to maintain a “friendship” with anyone on any social media platform.

You became someone’s facebook friend expecting professional information related to your field. Then that sort of information got replaced by “a lot of posts that [you were] not interested in (fashion, glamour)” and, as a result, you “quickly unfriended” that person.

There is no obligation to initiate or to maintain a “friendship” with anyone on any social media platform.

Nothing wrong was done at all: a person can post professional business information one day on social media and then fashion and glamour garbage the next if that’s what he or she desires, and you can be that person’s “friend” one day and then “unfriend” him or her the next day if that’s what you desire.

There is no obligation to initiate or to maintain a “friendship” with anyone on any social media platform.

Question:

My husband and I have our medical insurance through a Medicare Advantage insurance plan…. our plan offers gift cards when a member participates in certain “best practices” such as having an annual flu shot, an annual physical or a mammogram. When I recently called to request a $50 gift card … my husband became extremely angry and told me to cancel my request. He insisted that by requesting these gift cards I was participating in the high cost of medical insurance. I told him he was being ridiculous and refused to do so….

Correct answer:

Your ethical obligation to your insurance company is to follow correct procedures and to avoid insurance fraud. Taking advantage of the gift card program for “best practices” is the correct procedure, so you are right to obtain the benefit from it.

Insurance companies benefit by spending less money on preventable costs, and it is totally normal for them to pass some of those savings along to their customers. Sometimes this is done through lower premiums, and sometimes it’s through things like gift cards. Lower premiums are preferable, but gift cards are acceptable too. Your husband is probably senile.

Question:

I am a physician practicing in a state where marijuana is legal, both medicinally and recreationally. I will occasionally receive a bottle of wine from a patient as a token of gratitude. Recently, I was offered some marijuana by a patient for this reason. I did not accept, but would it have been wrong if I had?

Correct answer:

Morally, there is no difference between alcohol and cannabis. If there were a moral difference, cannabis would be less morally problematic than alcohol, because it is less harmful to one’s health.

Ethically, I do wonder about doctors accepting gifts from patients, but if the relevant professional bodies don’t have a problem with doctors accepting gifts of alcohol, I can not see any reason for them not to accept gifts of cannabis.

Should I Keep Working for a Raging Bigot?

Question:

I am a graduate student…. I have a job as an assistant…. It is just the two of us, and he pays me very well, allows me to work the hours I want, gives me a good deal of responsibility and is willing to give me in-depth training. He is, however, racist, homophobic, transphobic, bigoted and sexist. I am very liberal and find his ideas on many subjects to be repugnant. Though I have asked that he not talk about politics when we are together, he still does so from time to time. I often just let him speak and barely engage … I feel guilty …

Correct answer:

You describe your views as “very liberal,” which is to say that they are what’s fashionable today. If you are a graduate student now, you are probably in your early to mid 20s, which means you were probably born in the 1990s, which means you probably don’t remember a time when what’s now considered “racist, homophobic, transphobic, bigoted and sexist,” was fashionable. Fashions change, but your boss’s opinions haven’t changed with the fashions, and this has caused cognitive dissonance for you.

Because you are probably young, you probably have not yet had the opportunity to observe how quickly and how (apparently) senselessly fashions evolve, or can be made to evolve; consequently, you probably have never experienced your boss’s cognitive dissonance at being described as a “raging bigot” for having beliefs that were well within the norm when he was your age.

Quitting your cushy job because you can’t bear the physical proximity of someone whose beliefs are wrong and obnoxious is certainly one way to deal with your situation, but before taking this approach, you should carefully consider two other questions:

  • First, of all the beliefs that you do not share, which are you willing to tolerate and which do you find intolerable? Are you willing to interrogate all of your close friends and family members to determine whether they hold any beliefs on your black list, and proceed to block them out of your life? How supportive and loving would, say, your elderly grandparents need to be in order for them to be exempted from the horrible consequences of your graduate school Inquisition?
  • Second, how will you feel in the future when fashions inevitably change, turning your own beliefs into what graduate students consider to be raging bigotry? How frequently are you willing to change what you believe – every decade, every election cycle, every season? Is there anything that you believe so firmly that you will never change your mind about it? If business opportunities are denied to you in the future because nobody will agree to work in the presence of a raging bigot like you, to whom will you turn for financial support?

Here is an important lesson: when you arrive at work, you are arriving to work. Don’t engage in political discussions with your boss. Don’t encourage him to discuss politics with you under any circumstances. Don’t let yourself be drawn into anything controversial.

Here’s another important lesson: it’s helpful to forget the terms “racist,” “homophobic,” “transphobic,” “bigoted” and “sexist.” They aren’t very descriptive, obscure more than they reveal, and are subject to definitions that shift so rapidly that they can hardly be committed to print. As someone preparing for a career working with rare books and manuscripts, you should nurture an appreciation of the timeless and the sublime, rather than the transitory and the fashionable.

Question:

My boyfriend is a great person … He could be the one…. he made me promise not to talk to my ex-boyfriend and said that if I did, it would be the end of us as a couple…. When my current boyfriend made me promise not to talk to my ex, I accepted, and my ex did, too, and wished me luck…. I reconnected with him, without remembering my promise to my boyfriend….. It has now started to bother me that I’ve been lying to my boyfriend… I believe he will eventually soften up, but he has not. What is the right thing to do?

Correct answer:

There’s bad news and good news. The bad news is that your boyfriend is not “the one,” and the good news is that your boyfriend is not “the one.”

As someone who doesn’t do the jealousy thing, I don’t quite entirely understand when other people do it, but it seems like it’s being done to you now. Your choice, then, is not whether your boyfriend is going to be jealous or not, but whether you’re going to comply and enable his jealousy thing or not.

I recommend the following test to determine where your boyfriend’s limits really are: invite your ex-boyfriend, along with anyone he may be dating, to share a meal with you and your boyfriend. If your boyfriend will not allow you to eat and speak with your ex-boyfriend even in that sort of setting, then his opposition really is absolute, and I recommend that you break up with him immediately, without waiting to find out how many other people he wants to cut out of your life.

Can I Let My Friend Pay Off My Mortgages?

Question:

My closest American friend here in Japan, of more than 30 years, is worried about me and wants to pay off my mortgages. He says he doesn’t want to be paid back; he just wants to make sure I am out of debt before he dies. He is not dying, but he is 98. He has been mentioning this more and more, and says he wants to write a check the next time we meet. I never talk about this with him unless he brings up the subject. The amount he would give me would come to about 3 percent of his assets. It would have no impact on his financial needs. And frankly, it would be helpful for me…. I have a gnawing feeling that I would be taking advantage of him…. he is not suffering from dementia…. he depends on my help more and more… Should I decline and feel noble? Or should I be practical and take the offer….

Correct answer:

Talk to the old man’s children, who otherwise would stand to inherit his estate when he dies. If you’re afraid to speak with his children about it now, while he’s still alive, then that is probably a sign that you know something is wrong. Explain the situation to them and weigh their response. If they reject the idea that their father could give you money of his own volition and threaten you in some way, you don’t necessarily have to comply with their demands, but if they act unreasonably, that may be an indication of why their father isn’t entirely keen on leaving everything to them.

Question:

I recently spoke on the phone with an old friend from college. During the call she mentioned that her son is taking a drug for A.D.H.D. and that it really helps him focus. I know there is controversy surrounding this class of drugs, but I didn’t feel comfortable bringing that up. I assume she has looked into the pros and cons, and I know her mother is a psychiatrist. But should I mention my concerns nevertheless? Or should my concerns about seeming a busybody outweigh concerns about her son’s future health?

Correct answer:

This is a great opportunity to mind your own business.

Question:

I teach at a prestigious private art school. Every year, we take in 600 or so young people with little understanding of how the arts work as an industry. We charge a very high tuition, offer almost no scholarships and load them up with a lot of debt. Even though we claim to offer “career planning,” the illusions of our students are not addressed. Our graduates, even those with a degree in design, rarely find a job in their field. Those who do rarely last long before realizing that they are in a hopeless situation. Most have given up on art … By preying on their naĂŻvetĂ© and ignorance, I feel that we are essentially robbing our students…. Is it wrong to take the “caveat emptor” approach and let these naĂŻve young people continue to pay me through their student loans?

Correct answer:

Don’t lie to your students. In general, don’t lie to anybody, but especially don’t lie to your students. If they ask you a question that isn’t directly related to the curriculum and that you strongly prefer not to answer honestly, don’t answer it.

My Wife Is Done With Sex. Can I Turn Elsewhere?

Question:

I … have been happily married for decades. I have always been a very sexual person and consider myself healthy and normal… my wife’s health worsened, and she declared herself no longer interested in sex of any kind. I continue to cherish her, but find the lack of sexual intimacy exceedingly difficult. I asked her permission to seek a friendly but not competitive sexual relationship elsewhere…. on a dating site… My profile received a great deal of rejection…. I was a “dirty old man”; and I was — even with permission — “cheating” …

Correct answer:

This is almost certainly why the word discretion exists in the English language.

Question:

An extended family member posted very private information about me on a social media platform under the guise of honoring me. I do not value this person, whose past actions reveal the character flaws that would lead someone to do such a thing. I do, however, value the person’s family.
I am a very private person who only uses social media to observe what is happening in the lives of close friends and family. I never post anything about my private life. The shock of this invasion caused me to close my account immediately, but many people did see the post and commented on it…. this has caused me great anguish and embarrassment…. I want to make clear that this person crossed a line.

Correct answer:

You’d like to eat the cake of social media stalking, and then proceed to have the cake of humility and privacy, but that’s not the way it works. Choose one: engage in social media (at a level that suits you) or do not. Both options are correct, but whichever you choose, bear in mind that people do talk about one another, and there’s probably nothing you can do to prevent that. If you keep social media accounts active, it will encourage your family members to talk about you.

Question:

A friend forwarded me an email she received about a college classmate of ours who recently died. It turns out that this classmate ended her life because of some psychological issues relating to an unusual condition that materialized in the last two years.
The woman who wrote the email that was circulating was my classmate’s sister; she shared some conversation screenshots with time stamps that demonstrated her sister’s growing mental distress. She made it clear that she was sharing this material because she wanted to raise awareness of this condition.
I had never heard of the condition, so it was illuminating, but I feel unsettled and guilty for knowing these details, as my classmate took so much care to keep them secret while she was alive…. is it O.K. that it is circulating after her death?

Correct answer:

When someone kills himself or herself, there’s often so much uncertainty and confusion among that person’s peers and extended group of family members and friends, which is why so often we hear things like, “If only he or she had reached out to ask for help…” If a family member chooses to provide answers as a way of helping others who could find themselves in similar situations, that’s a good thing and should not be criticized.