Incapacity and Care: Controversies in Healthcare and Research

By Sutton, Agneta | Ethics & Medicine, Summer 2012 | Go to article overview
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Incapacity and Care: Controversies in Healthcare and Research


Sutton, Agneta, Ethics & Medicine


Incapacity and Care: Controversies in Healthcare and Research Helen Watt, editor. Oxford: The Linacre Centre, 2010. ISBN 978-0906561119; 146 PAGES, PAPER, $19.95.

The Linacre Centre, now renamed The Anscombe Bioethics Centre, is the Roman Catholic bioethics centre which produced Incapacity and Care, a selection of papers exploring the duties and proper attitudes of carers and health care professionals to those with mental incapacity.

The first paper, by David Albert Jones, the new Director of The Anscombe Bioethics Centre, deserves special attention. This is a well-written paper honing in on the conceptual shortcomings of the definition of personhood in terms of mental capacities, primarily self-consciousness and rationality. These concepts exclude many people we normally count as persons and are not a firm basis for solidarity with the incapacitated or with nascent human life. David Jones, therefore, puts forward an alternative definition of persons as beings with "a common rational nature" who are "constituted by their relationships to others and by their interdependence." It is suggested that rationality, understood to be more or less well expressed, is no reason for seeing some people as lesser people. Fine! But, as Christians, should we not also take into account our relationship with and dependence on God and that, as human, we are created in His image, the image of our triune relational God? On this understanding, all humans are equal in human dignity.

Mounting a strong attack on English Law and practices such as selective abortion on the grounds of fetal abnormality, Aaron Kheriaty makes a comparison with the Nazi regime. In particular, he points a long finger at the Mental Incapacity Act 2005, which allows non-voluntary sterilisation of intellectually disabled people. A more sustained and even stronger attack on the Act is mounted by John Finnis. Carefully analyzing the terms of the Act, he faults it mainly on the basis of its legal shortcomings. "There is nothing in the Mental Capacity Act, so far as I can see, that challenges our ethical teaching or invites or requires a Catholic to do wrong," he writes. But, he argues, the legislation does not protect individuals or the community from people whose conscience is unsound.

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