This article aims to help readers to understand the conceptual link between supported decision making and legal capacity and how this is influencing the development of practice. It examines how the concept has been defined as: a process of supporting a person with decision making; a system that affords legal status; and a means of bringing a person’s will and preference to the centre of any substituted decision-making process. The conceptual link between supported decision making and legal capacity is explored by outlining three conceptualizations that are influencing the development of practice. It is important to understand the difference between supported decision making and support with decision making. Both involve offering support to a person who is unable to navigate decision making independently. However, the key difference is whether or not the process results in greater legal capacity for the individual. Additionally, supported decision making requires the development of legal mechanisms that legitimize the interdependent nature of decision making and the concept of shared capacity. By having a greater understanding of the conceptual foundations of supported decision making, practitioners can engage in more focused evaluation of proposed new law reform and practice. Research will be vital in understanding how supported and substituted decision making could coexist and how mental capacity could be assessed in this new decision-making paradigm. If a more substantial theory of practice can be developed, supported decision making has the potential to empower and enrich the lives of people with cognitive disabilities, both in Australia and all over the world.
Publication Date: May 2014