Clarifying Capacity: Reasons and Value

In Lubomira Radoilska (ed.), Autonomy and Mental Health. Oxford University Press (forthcoming)
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It is usually appropriate for adults to make significant decisions, such as about what kinds of medical treatment to undergo, for themselves. But sometimes impairments are suffered - either temporary or permanent - which render an individual unable to make such decisions. The Mental Capacity Act 2005 sets out the conditions under which it is appropriate to regard an individual as lacking the capacity to make a particular decision (and when provisions should be made for a decision on their behalf). To what extent does having capacity require the endorsement of certain values? Drawing on Owens et al (2009), I assess the extent to which understanding relevant information and weighing it in coming to a decision requires certain evaluative commitments. With reference to literature on anorexia nervosa and decisions informed by religious beliefs, I argue that it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the conditions for capacity are value-laden, and that if this is so it is important to open discussion about which patterns of distorted valuing undermine capacity, and why.
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