Building the relational ethics of health for adults with disabilities using the lynchpin of capacity hearings

Adults with disabilities are often determined to have diminished legal capacity and correspondingly, have substitute decision makers appointed to make health, financial, or legal decisions on their behalf. However, we believe the legal capacity of adults with disabilities has too often been assessed too simplistically.

In this project, we treat legal capacity not as a property inherent to an individual, but as a process that occurs in relationship with others and thus, must be understood using relational approaches. We are studying processes of determining legal
capacity for adults with disabilities by gathering and examining evidence of the ways in which capacity hearing decision-makers do, and can, respect what we are calling a “relational ethic” of health promotion and maintenance through the very processes by which they determine the capacity of adults with disabilities.

We are conducting research on capacity hearing experiences, processes and decisions in two Canadian provinces, Alberta and Ontario, to learn about the ways in which capacity hearings engage a relational ethic  on topics related to health and other decision making. Our purpose is to inform understandings of capacity determination processes with, and for, adults with disabilities, and use these understandings to create scholarly and practice-relevant resources that promote relational ethics in the determination of the “capacity” of adults with disabilities to direct their own lives.

Our Research Team:

Bonnie Lashewicz, Associate Professor, Community Rehabilitation & Disability Studies, Cumming School of Medicine,  University of Calgary, Principal Investigator 

Laverne Jacobs, Associate Professor, Faculty of Law, University of Windsor, Director of the Law, Disability & Social Change Project

Heath Gordon, Disability Community Member

Meaghan Edwards,  PhD, University of Calgary

Ilija Dimeski, Research Assistant, Law, Disability & Social Change Project, Windsor Law

Faizah Tiifu, Research Assistant, Community Rehabilitation & Disability Studies, Cumming School of Medicine, University of Calgary

We are grateful for the generous support of this research project provided by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.