Understanding mental capacity
Understanding mental capacity

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3.1 Marriage, hate and death

Sometimes, the choices people with learning disabilities make bring them into conflict with social norms and strongly held beliefs.

Activity 6 Marriage, hate and death

Timing: Allow about 40 minutes

In this activity, you consider three choices that may be made by people with a learning disability. After reviewing the material for each choice, note down anything that you feel strongly about.

1. Marriage

Read Couples with learning disabilities face unfair wedding bar [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] from The Guardian in 2014.

2. Disability hate crime

Watch the short video below about a young person with Down's syndrome who has been subject to bullying.

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Bully for You
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3. Assisted dying

Read the article Assisted dying bill overwhelmingly rejected by MPs from 2015. It remains illegal in the UK to assist in someone’s suicide.Can a young man with a learning disability have capacity to make such a decision  

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  • Clearly, it was an unambiguous and carefully considered decision by Sarah to marry Daniel. The decision was not seen as so clear-cut by the local authority’s mental capacity assessor. Initially, Sarah was deemed not to have the capacity to enter into a marriage where both parties had severe learning disabilities. Sarah’s mother believes that Sarah ‘had the right to fall in love like anyone else’. The local authority was concerned about the risk of abuse and exploitation. These are difficult decisions.
  • Some might call what happened to Ben ‘bullying’. However, it seems more serious than that and more like a series of assaults. It seems that Ben is attending a mainstream school, with support for his additional learning needs. This choice by Ben and his mother has brought him into contact with the ‘bullies’. Would it have been better for him to have chosen to attend a special school? These are the kinds of dilemmas faced by parents and carers of young people with learning disabilities. Most people would say that it is for the bullies to be punished and not Ben. However, some parents may not want to take the risk of their child being bullied. That, too, would be their choice.
  • Assisted suicide is controversial and remains illegal in the UK. However, if it were legalised, it is highly debatable as to whether learning disabled people with a terminal illness should be precluded. Should it be based on an assessment of their mental capacity to choose the time and manner of their death? Opponents of assisted suicide may argue that choosing suicide is de facto evidence of incapacity in and of itself, for anyone, not just for a person with a learning disability.

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