Understanding mental capacity
Understanding mental capacity

Start this free course now. Just create an account and sign in. Enrol and complete the course for a free statement of participation or digital badge if available.

Free course

Understanding mental capacity

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.

Download this video clip.Video player: Bully for You
Skip transcript: Bully for You

Transcript: Bully for You

[MUSIC PLAYING]
[KEYBOARD TYPING]
[LAUGHS]
SANDRA
Can't really remember how it all started. When I came home from hospital there were a few people that said I should have left him there, that it would have been better for me, certainly better for our Pete, better for all of us, all the family, all the friends. But they were only thinking what was best for me, for Pete. Better for all of us, you see, and better for Ben. They were sure of that.
Much better for Ben-- everything could have been, should have been, better-- might well have been. Now I think about it, I was told by the doctors and nurses they could arrange a procedure that would have stopped it all before it started. But he were mine. He were my Ben, and I loved him, and that was that.
I did love you, you know? I always have, always did, always will. You knew that, didn't you?
BEN
I know, Mum. I know. What do you mean, arrange a procedure?
SANDRA
Pete-- Pete-- he struggled. They were all right about that. He couldn't get his head around having a Down baby. Down babies, you see, Down kids, they don't look like you.
They don't have your nose, your mouth, the dad's eyes-- Pete's eyes. Ben didn't have my nose or my mouth. And he didn't have Pete's eyes.
Pete had amazing eyes, really blue-- Paul Newman blue. Do you know what I mean? If Ben could have had one thing of ours, I'd have been happy if he'd had those baby blues. That would have done for me.
But he didn't have blue eyes. Didn't look like me. Didn't look like Pete. Now, we know, he just looked like Ben.
But then he looked Down. They weren't right. They were wrong, bag of rubbish. I think Pete and I just stopped seeing eye to eye.
Pete tried. I'm sure he tried. No, he did try. He did try. But you know, he just thought it was all his fault. And I thought it were all my fault.
Weren't long before his blue eyes started seeing eye to eye with someone else. Ran off to Bridlington with a piano tuner's assistant. Something about her g-string, he said.
BEN
Bridlington?
SANDRA
Aye, Benjamin. You reap what you sow. You reap what you sow.
When our Ben first started school-- sorry, when he were first able to participate in inclusive learning with additional specialist support, we had a few problems, issues, is what the school called them.
BEN
Issues? I don't do P.E because of my heart.
[KEYBOARD TYPING]
BEN
I couldn't do lessons because I couldn't understand. I don't hold my tray at dinner. Bloody issues, all right.
SANDRA
Teachers said it was all very difficult. His time and resources were being taken up by our Ben. Parents just said our Ben was holding their kids back.
BEN
It was their bloody kids who were holding me. Putting me-- putting me arm up my back. The other kids say I'm a stupid spaz. But they kept tripping me up all the time. Every break, every dinner-- let's get the spaz.
SANDRA
You never think for one minute, despite everything, not one second, that it will happen to your child-- not one second.
ALEXANDRA WEBSTER
You never think it can happen to us, but it does. Christine Lakinski was in her fifties. She had learning and physical disabilities. Because her spine was bent, because she wore old clothes, because she didn't comb her hair, and because she smoked a lot, some people thought she looked like a bag lady.
One day, Christine collapsed in a street near her home. A neighbour passing by thought this was really funny.
[LAUGHTER OFF-SCREEN]
ALEXANDRA WEBSTER
She was dying, and he thought it was funny, real funny. He covered her in shaving foam-- funny. He took a piss on her-- that was really funny. So funny, he laughed as he did it-- that funny. He filmed himself pissing on her as she was dying. Said-- this will look great on YouTube. That was dead funny. And they said this wasn't a hate crime.
We think he did this because of who Christine was, because she had disabilities. We think this was a disability hate crime. And that's not funny, not funny at all.
SANDRA
I want to Ben to-- I wanted to push him to be independent. I mean, Ben couldn't look like other kids, but he could be like them. He could do the stuff that they do.
Social services, they agreed. That's the best treatment, they said. That's the best way-- no mollycoddling, no kid gloves, no cotton wool to be wrapped around our Ben.
So when he got to secondary school, I made him walk there and back on his own. It were for the best, I kept telling myself. It was for the best.
It were. But every day, every single day, I felt sick, sick to my stomach. And yeah, actually physically sick at times.
BEN
Me, too.
SANDRA
I knew they'd call him names, terrible names.
BULLY VOICES (ECHOING)
Flid. Spaz. Mongy. Joey.
BEN
They did those and worse.
SANDRA
Officer complained to the school. But those teachers just said that if they hadn't heard anything, as far as they were concerned it wasn't happening. And was I sure Ben wasn't making it up just to seek attention?
BEN
I don't need to seek attention. Attention always comes to seek me.
SANDRA
Oh, and sorry, Ms. Jackson, we can't be responsible for anything that doesn't actually happen on our premises. They called him names, made fun of him, humiliated him, bullied him. And just because I made him walk to school on his own. [SOBBING] My beautiful, precious baby, on his own. It were only half a mile away, but it was another world to me.
BEN
I was spat at, sworn at, punched, kicked, and shoved. They made me drink whiskey and smoke cigarettes. One girl took my trousers off. And that really made them laugh. I wasn't laughing. I was really, really scared. They fed me dog food and cat biscuits.
SANDRA
They were sick.
BEN
I was sick. Proper sick. And I really made them laugh.
SANDRA
You never think, for one minute, despite everything, not one second, that people can be that sick and nasty.
TIMOTHY WOOTON
You never think people can do that kind of thing, but they can. David Askew was 64 and he had learning disabilities. People said he wouldn't hurt a fly. But some people wanted to hurt him. He didn't hate anyone. But some people hated him. For over 10 years, groups of young people made his life hell.
[OFF-SCREEN BULLIES LAUGHING]
TIMOTHY WOOTON
They called him names. [INAUDIBLE] and took his money. Some people complained to the police. But nothing ever happened. So they stopped complaining.
One evening, [INAUDIBLE] people broke into his garden. [INAUDIBLE] David got so angry that he collapsed and he died. 10 years of abuse killed him. 10 years of hate killed him.
SANDRA
Then it all started to hit home, literally, like. Stones at the windows, name calling up to his bedroom, knock and run, exit the door. I'd run out and shout out as loud as I could, but I never saw or caught anyone. They were all too quick, wearing hats and scarves and like.
SANDRA (ON TELEPHONE)
Hello? I just wondered if you could send someone round. Well, it's my lad, you see. He's getting picked on.
SANDRA
But I'd had enough. And I called the police.
SANDRA (ON TELEPHONE)
Can't you just send someone just to talk to us?
SANDRA
Didn't know what else to do-- nowhere else to go.
SANDRA (ON TELEPHONE)
Yeah. Sorry, I don't usually do things like this. But I don't know what else to do.
SANDRA
Neighbours did what neighbours do, you know, keep themselves to themselves. They don't say anything about Ben. But you know, you can feel it. You can see that they sense Ben is different, not one of us. Then they give you one of those "oh, it must be so hard for you" looks, and then they scuttle off. Not thinking Ben exists, I suppose.
BEN
Oh, but I do exist. Yep, I exist.
SANDRA
So about three days later, I think it were, the police sent round this police lady. She was in the area anyway, so I didn't feel so bad that she made a trip out special like. But she didn't need to listen to me too much as she knew what it all were.
POLICE OFFICER
Anti-social behaviour.
SANDRA
--she said.
POLICE OFFICER
There's a lot of it about.
SANDRA
The young kids, you see, especially around areas like the one I live in are no go zone at weekends, apparently. Well, if it scares the police, just think what it does to us. Anyway, she took a few notes and our details. And she'd said, other than pop by a few times to keep an eye on us, it wasn't really a huge amount she could do. But as she said--
POLICE OFFICER
No one's been murdered, love.
SANDRA
Fair enough.
[BACKGROUND CONVERSATION]
BEN
As I got older, they bullied me more and more. So I told the police I was sick of being bullied.
POLICE OFFICER
But you're too old to be bullied, OK?
SANDRA
Bullying-- that's what Ben calls it. He's been threatened, punched, kicked. He's been forced to eat dog food. He's had his clothes taken off. He's been made to play with himself.
To us, that's threatening and intimidating behaviour. To us, that's mugging and theft. To us, that's assault, an actual bodily harm.
To us, that's torture. To us, that's sexual assault. But to them, it's bullying, same as he's had all his life. To Ben, their bullies, only bigger and worse and meaner.
BEN
It did get worse and meaner, and I told them to stop hurting me. And [INAUDIBLE] they said--
BULLY VOICES (ECHOING)
We're going to burn your house down, because you're a stupid spaz who should have been put down at birth just like the dog you are. The dog I am is worse than being an animal. People like animals.
SANDRA
You never think for one minute, despite everything, not one second, that people can treat people like animals-- not one second.
RUTH PAGE
Frankie Hardwick was 18 and had severe learning disabilities. For 11 years, Frankie and her Mum had been under siege from a gang of local young people. They threw stones at her window. They called Frankie a disabled bitch. "You disabled bitch!"
They complained all the time to the police. The police didn't see any hate. They just saw anti-social behaviour. [INAUDIBLE]. The police couldn't help and Frankie's Mum couldn't cope.
And so she and Frankie got into their car and then they pulled into a [INAUDIBLE]. Frankie's Mum set fire to their car, killing herself and Frankie. The bodies were so badly burned, you couldn't even tell who they were. The police needed to use DNA tests to find out who the bodies were. The bodies were Frankie and her Mum. The fire might have killed them, but the hate they suffered burned just as deep.
MUM
After he left school, it went on and on. Time after time I'd call the police, social services, local counsellors, all sorts, any sorts, anyone. They said keep a diary.
We did. No one read it. Ben likes Big Brother, so he said, let's keep a video diary.
BEN
So we did.
MUM
We did.
[BEEP]
[CLEARING THROAT]
SANDRA
Whatever friends, family can still be bothered with us said why don't you just move? Why don't you just pack up? Oh, yes, easy that isn't it, yeah? With no friends, no-- no-- no-- oh. Start again.
No income, no savings, no partners-- what I mean. I mean, that's just easy, isn't it? Yep? Just pack up and go.
No, this home, for all its faults, its memories, its trouble-- no, I mean, this home-- well, it's all we've got. If we give up that, we give up everything. Huh. Just pack up and pack it in and go.
Oh. Don't know whether I've got that.
[VIDEO BEEPING]
[PAPER RUSTLING]
SANDRA
I wasn't having that, so I went to the other extreme. What did the local paper call it-- my siege mentality. I was on tablets-- so frightened. Dr. Betty was nice and tried to understand. But all she could really do was give me tablets to help me nerves, calm me down, help me sleep. I was just so wired. I just used to go "shouty crackers," as Ben called it, and screamed from the doorstep.
BEN
She went shouty crackers. You should have heard her. Surprised you didn't, actually.
[BEEP]
SANDRA
Ben going missing didn't help.
[KEYBOARD TYPING]
BEN
I was with my friends. I was living on the front line in the community.
[BEEP]
SOCIAL WORKER
And Sandra, as your social worker, I think it's important that you fully understand the outcomes of the discussion--
SANDRA
I was frantic. Social services told me that, as an adult, Ben could make his own decisions. And he'd decided, having made an informed choice, to move in with friends.
He had, had he? Oh, yes. Not only that, he'd also declined any further intervention or support, and therefore, his case was closed, closed. Yes. Case closed. He is now happily integrated into the community.
But he hasn't got any friends. Who are these friends? I was being in denial. That many, many parents have felt they can't let go, apparently. He was an independent adult, empowered to make his own choices.
Choices, choices-- whose flaming choices? What about me? What about his safety? Well, I must learn to look beyond a perceived threat and see the opportunity, see it as an opportunity.
So all these threats to burn our house down, they were threats at all. They were opportunities.
SOCIAL WORKER
See it as an opportunity.
SANDRA
Oh, give me strength. Where's my tablets?
[BEEP]
BEN
Steve and Jen found me in town. Mum had one of her do's. So I just wanted out. They said I could come to the house if I liked-- as long as I clean up and that.
they got angry if there's anything wrong. I gave them my money. [INAUDIBLE]
I was their pet. Forgive me, I don't [INAUDIBLE]. I ate my food out of a dog bowl. [INAUDIBLE]
[BARKING] But I knew I'd be OK, because people liked their animals and would love their pets. Don't they?
SANDRA
You never think for one minute, despite everything, not one second, that people can torture people, not one second.
MATTHEW FOWLER
We never think people can torture people, but they can.
MUJAHID SHAH
You all right, man?
MATTHEW FOWLER
Listen to this. Sean Miles was 37. He had autism. He was a kind and gentle man. He thought that anyone who talked to him was his friend.
But they weren't. Three nasty people one night tortured and murdered him because they thought he was a paedophile. He wasn't.
He had learning disabilities, and just acted differently. He acted differently, so they picked on him. They beat him with a golf club and fractured his ribs.
[SOUND OF GOLF CLUB HITTING A PERSON]
MATTHEW FOWLER
They stuck a knife in his head. They stripped him naked and threw him into the River Thames. When he tried to get out of the river, they poked him with a stick to stop him. Sean drowned that night. He died because he had a learning disability. He died because they hated him.
MUJAHID SHAH
They hated him because he was different.
MATTHEW FOWLER
He was different. But Sean Miles was better than them, and now he's dead.
SANDRA
You never think for one minute, despite everything, not one second, that people can kill people just because they have a disability-- not one second.
BEN
And now there's one person to add to that list-- me. And that's me, dead.
SANDRA
And that's my Ben, dead. The coroner said he had 136 cigarette burns across his body. He had the word spaz cut into his forehead. They found traces of furniture polish, vodka, and dogshit in his stomach.
ALEXANDRA WEBSTER
A victim of hatred and prejudice.
MATTHEW FOWLER
A victim of intolerance and bigotry.
RUTH PAGE
A victim of independence and choice.
TIMOTHY WOOTON
A victim.
MUJAHID SHAH
A dead victim.
ALEXANDRA WEBSTER
A victim of--
BEN
Bullying.
SANDRA
A victim, a dead victim.
BEN
Because anti social behavior MUM, that's all. Night, mum.
SANDRA
Night night, Ben. I love you.
BEN
Love you.
[KEYBOARD TYPING]
SANDRA
Hatred, prejudice, intolerance, fear-- why do they exist in our society when our Ben doesn't? He's dead now. He's gone. He's out of it. He can't hear the names, can't feel the kicks, can't feel the cigarette ends, can't eat anymore dog shit. He's gone.
I'm not sure I want to stick around, either. I'm too numb to feel, too sick to think. It's all I can do to grieve.
Why didn't they listen? Why didn't they hear him when he was alive? We were quiet voices then, but they should have listened louder. They should have listened.
It took our Ben's death for them to sit up and listen. Why couldn't they learn the lessons from his life? Why wait until it was too late? Why wait until he died?
Our Ben had learning difficulties. He had Down syndrome. That was the reason he found it difficult to learn. What was theirs? What'll be yours?
End transcript: Bully for You
Bully for You
Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).

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  

To use this interactive functionality a free OU account is required. Sign in or register.
Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).

Comment

  • 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.
Skip Your course resources
MHC_1

Take your learning further371

Making the decision to study can be a big step, which is why you'll want a trusted University. The Open University has 50 years’ experience delivering flexible learning and 170,000 students are studying with us right now. Take a look at all Open University courses372.

If you are new to university level study, we offer two introductory routes to our qualifications. Find out Where to take your learning next?373 You could either choose to start with an Access courses374or an open box module, which allows you to count your previous learning towards an Open University qualification.

Not ready for University study then browse over 1000 free courses on OpenLearn375 and sign up to our newsletter376 to hear about new free courses as they are released.

Every year, thousands of students decide to study with The Open University. With over 120 qualifications, we’ve got the right course for you.

Request an Open University prospectus371