Mental Capacity And Decisional Autonomy: An Interdisciplinary Challenge.

With the waves of reform occurring in mental health legislation in England and other jurisdictions, mental capacity is set to become a key

medico-legal concept. The concept is core to the law of informed consent and is closely aligned to the philosophical concept of autonomy. It is
also closely related to mental disorder. This paper explores the interdisciplinary terrain where mental capacity is located. Our aim is to identify
core dilemmas and to suggest pathways for future interdisciplinary research.

The terrain can be separated into three types of discussion: philosophical, legal and psychiatric. Each discussion approaches mental capacity and
judgmental autonomy from a different perspective yet each discussion struggles over two key dilemmas: whether mental capacity and autonomy
is/should be a moral or a psychological notion and whether rationality is the key constitutive factor.

We suggest that further theoretical work will have to be interdisciplinary and that this work offers on opportunity for the law to enrich its
interpretation of mental capacity; for psychiatry to clarify the normative elements latent in its work and for philosophy to advance understanding
of autonomy through the study of decisional dysfunction. The new pressures on medical and legal practice to be more explicit about mental capacity
make this work a priority.

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How to cite this document:

  • Owen, G. S.
  • Freyenhagen, F.
  • Richardson, G.
  • Hotopf, M.

(2009) Mental Capacity And Decisional Autonomy: An Interdisciplinary Challenge. Inquiry. An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy, 52(1): 79-107.