Humility when responding to the abuse of adults with mental disabilities

Paul Skowron

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Legal theorists often reduce the ethics of responding to the abuse of another person to a clash between the principles of autonomy and protection. This reduction is a problem. Responding to suspected abuse requires humility - the potential responder must be aware of and respect their own limits - but humility cannot be usefully reduced to protection and autonomy. Using examples from the Court of Protection of England and Wales, this article examines the different ways that someone responding to abuse should respect their own limits, and suggests that a failure to do so will disproportionately affect people with mental disabilities. It is therefore necessary to attend to whether the law fosters humility among those who respond to abuse, although this must be tempered by humility about legal reform itself. Finally, the article shows how attention to humility can assist the interpretation of Article 16 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities; and suggests that, so interpreted, the Convention may help to promote humility when responding to abuse.

Original languageEnglish
JournalInternational Journal of Law and Psychiatry
Early online date20 May 2017
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • Abuse
  • Autonomy
  • Humility
  • Mental capacity
  • Mental disability
  • Protection


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