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Disability and sexuality a matter of rights

opinion

For adults with disabilities, as for other adults, the desire to enter into intimate personal relationships, including sexual relationships, is one of the most profoundly personal rights there is.

Relationships

That desire is no less important for the many adults with disabilities who are under some form of guardianship. To what extent does or should having a guardian limit an adult's ability to fashion intimate relationships of his or her choosing? The answer for many people with disabilities is that, as a matter of law, guardianship need not limit the adult's right of sexual expression and conduct, but dialogue between the individual and his or her guardian can play a critical role in supporting the individual's decision-making in this area.

Guardianship is a form of legal relationship in which a court appoints an individual called the guardian or conservator to protect the person or "Disability and sexuality a matter of rights" of an individual called the ward or the allegedly incapacitated person.

Nevertheless, there are certain national trends in guardianship law, aided by such influential resources as the Uniform Guardianship and Protective Proceedings Act ofwhich many Disability and sexuality a matter of rights have adopted in one form or another National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws, Traditionally, guardianship in the U. Capacity — more usually called competency — was also thought to be all or nothing; one either had legal capacity or was competent or one did not or was not competentand if one did not, he or she needed a guardian to substitute as a decision-maker.

Such a legal regime, in theory, maximized protection of the allegedly incapacitated person but had the distinct disadvantage of undermining the autonomy of the individual.

Plenary guardianship was a kind of "civil death" in which the individual lost all rights to make the kinds of decisions that adults typically make in our society. In practice, guardianship could be even worse, in that some guardians especially for elderly individuals either ignored their wards or took advantage of them financially or otherwise.

Sexual and intimate relationships were included within the kinds of relationships over which plenary guardians exercised control. Of course, for adults with disabilities in institutions, opportunities to have intimate relations, especially with adults of the opposite sex, historically were extremely limited. However, as more and more individuals have left institutions, or avoided them altogether, and as societal attitudes toward the importance of sexual expression for adults with disabilities have evolved, the balance between sexual expression and protection from abuse and coercion has become both more complicated and more salient.

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