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State intervention in the lives of people with disabilities: the case for a disability-neutral framework

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  15 February 2017

Eilionóir Flynn
Centre for Disability Law and Policy, NUI Galway, Ireland. E-mail:
Anna Arstein-Kerslake
Hallmark Disability Research Initiative and Melbourne Law School, Australia. E-mail:


People with disabilities continue to experience a disproportionately high level of state intervention in their private lives. Many disabled people's organisations have long sought to challenge this discriminatory approach and, in recent times, have relied upon the provisions of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in support of their claims. In this paper, we argue for the abolition of disability-specific legal bases for state intervention in the private lives of adults. We also argue for the introduction of a narrower disability-neutral legislative framework for state intervention in the lives of all adults – based on risk of imminent and serious harm to the individual's life, health or safety, while providing greater respect for the person's legal capacity as expressed through her will and preferences.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2017 

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The development of the ideas in this paper was very much a collaborative effort and could not have been achieved without the valuable insights and feedback of many other scholars in this field. We wish to particularly acknowledge the comments of Tina Minkowitz, Elizabeth Kamundia, Mirriam Nthenge, Lucy Series, Michelle Browning, Alex Ruck-Keene and Piers Gooding for their comments on earlier versions of this paper. Alberto Vasquez, Sarah Hofmayer, Charlotte May Simera, Liz Brosnan and John Danaher also gave valuable feedback at a roundtable discussion on a very early draft of this paper. Any errors or inaccuracies are the sole responsibility of the authors.


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