Competence, paternalism, and public policy for mentally retarded people

This article examines two currently disputed issues regarding public policy for mentally retarded people. First, questions are raised about the legal tradition of viewing mental competence as an all-or-nothing attribute. It is argued that recently developed limited competence and limited guardianship laws can provide greater freedom for retarded people without sacrificing needed protection. Second, the question of who should act paternalistically for retarded people incapable of acting for themselves is examined. Rothman's claim that special formal advocates are the best representatives for retarded people is discussed and criticized. It is argued that parents, professionals and legal advocates should share decision-making authority on behalf of those who are incompetent.
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