Health Care Analysis

, Volume 23, Issue 2, pp 181–196 | Cite as

Evaluating Medico-Legal Decisional Competency Criteria

  • Demian WhitingEmail author
Original Article


In this paper I get clearer on the considerations that ought to inform the evaluation and development of medico-legal competency criteria—where this is taken to be a question regarding the abilities that ought to be needed for a patient to be found competent in medico-legal contexts. In the “Decisional Competency in Medico-Legal Contexts” section I explore how the question regarding the abilities that ought to be needed for decisional competence is to be interpreted. I begin by considering an interpretation that takes the question to be asking about the abilities needed to satisfy an idealized view of competent decision-making, according to which decisional competency is a matter of possessing those abilities or attributes that are needed to engage in good or effective or, perhaps, substantially autonomous or rational decision-making. The view has some plausibility—it accords with the way decisional competency is understood in a number of everyday contexts—but fails as an interpretation of the question regarding the abilities that should be needed for decisional competence in medico-legal contexts. Nevertheless, consideration of why it is mistaken suggests a more accurate interpretation and points the way in which the question regarding the evaluation of medico-legal competency criteria is to be answered. Building on other scholarly work in the area, I outline in the “Primary and Secondary Requirements” section several requirements that decisional competence criteria ought to satisfy. Then, in the “Applying the Framework” section, I say something about the extent to which medico-legal competency criteria, as well as some models of decisional competency proposed in the academic literature, fulfil those requirements.


Decisional authority Decisional competency Idealized views of competency Law Medico-legal contexts Mental Capacity Act 2005 Proportionality Necessity 



My thanks to Suzanne Uniacke, Paul Gilbert and two anonymous reviewers for their very helpful comments on earlier drafts of this paper.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.PhilosophyUniversity of HullHullUK

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