Michigan Woman Makes History In Guardianship Case, Advocates For Alternative Option – Supported Decision Making
A Wayne County, MI, Probate Judge, Freddie Burton, Jr., issued an order denying a petition that would have appointed a guardian for a 56-year-old woman with an intellectual disability. Instead, Judge Burton went with a less extreme measure—allowing her to retain her independence and make her own decisions under “Supported Decision Making.”
What is supported decision making?
When a guardian is appointed for an individual, the Court has declared that individual legally incapacitated. This means that you lose the right to get married, decide what doctor you want to see, choose where you want to live, etc. Under Supported Decision Making, people retain their individual rights and turn to a support system when making decisions. This approach encourages individuals with intellectual disabilities to make their own life decisions with support from family, friends, and trusted individuals.
For thousands of years, people with intellectual disabilities have been assumed to be unable to do things for themselves. Supported Decision Making changes this stigma by showing that these individuals are capable of maintaining their independence, with a little guidance or someone to explain the consequences in more detail.
Twenty-three states have added Supported Decision Making as an option under their laws. While Pennsylvania is not one of the twenty-three states, any judge within the Commonwealth can use Supported Decision Making as an alternative to guardianship without any change to Pennsylvania law. Once Supported Decision Making is formally recognized, then a person with a disability will be able to sign a formal document with his or her selected supporters in which they all agree to participate in Supported Decision Making.
Supported decision making vs. power of attorney
This would be a different arrangement from a power of attorney. A power of attorney identifies the person who will be the substitute decision maker if the principal becomes incapacitated. A Supported Decision Making Agreement, on the other hand, identifies the people who will support the principal in making their own decisions.
Fundamental rights are the most precious thing a citizen holds. Taking them away without first exhausting all other options would be unjust to that citizen. We hope to see Pennsylvania lawmakers advocating for Supported Decision Making in the near future.