Journal of Bioethical Inquiry

, Volume 13, Issue 3, pp 381–393 | Cite as

Getting the Balance Right: Conceptual Considerations Concerning Legal Capacity and Supported Decision-Making

  • Malcolm Parker
Original Research


The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities urges and requires changes to how signatories discharge their duties to people with intellectual disabilities, in the direction of their greater recognition as legal persons with expanded decision-making rights. Australian jurisdictions are currently undertaking inquiries and pilot projects that explore how these imperatives should be implemented. One of the important changes advocated is to move from guardianship models to supported or assisted models of decision-making. A driving force behind these developments is a strong allegiance to the social model of disability, in the formulation of the Convention, in inquiries and pilot projects, in implementation and in the related academic literature. Many of these instances suffer from confusing and misleading statements and conceptual misinterpretations of certain elements such as legal capacity, decision-making capacity, and support for decision-making. This paper analyses some of these confusions and their possible negative implications for supported decision-making instruments and those whose interests these instruments would serve, and advises a more incremental development of existing guardianship regimes. This provides a more realistic balance between neglecting the real limits of those with mental disabilities and thereby ignoring their identity and particularity, and continuing to bring them equally and fully into society.


Decision-making capacity Disability Guardianship Legal capacity Supported decision-making 


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Copyright information

© Journal of Bioethical Inquiry Pty Ltd. 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of MedicineUniversity of QueenslandHerstonAustralia

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