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Legislating personhood: realising the right to support in exercising legal capacity

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  31 January 2014

Eilionoir Flynn*
Centre for Disability Law and Policy, National University of Ireland, Galway
Anna Arstein-Kerslake*
Centre for Disability Law and Policy, National University of Ireland, Galway


This paper examines the regulation of ‘personhood’ through the granting or denying of legal capacity. It explores the development of the concept of personhood through the lens of moral and political philosophy. It highlights the problem of upholding cognition as a prerequisite for personhood or the granting of legal capacity because it results in the exclusion of people with cognitive disabilities (intellectual, psycho-social, mental disabilities, and others). The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) challenges this notion by guaranteeing respect for the right to legal capacity for people with disabilities on an equal basis with others and in all areas of life (Article 12). The paper uses the CRPD to argue for a conception of personhood that is divorced from cognition and a corresponding recognition of legal capacity as a universal attribute that all persons possess. Finally, a support model for the exercise of legal capacity is proposed as a possible alternative to the existing models of substituted decision-making that deny legal capacity and impose outside decision-makers.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2014 

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