About Decision Making Capacity

Everyone has the right to make their own decisions or if needed the right to have support to make their own decisions.  In some situations, this right must be balanced against the need to protect a person who cannot make a particular decision from harm to themselves or from exploitation by others.

Whether a person has decision-making capacity is decided according to the law. In different areas of life there are different legal test for whether a person has the capacity to make a decision. For example, the test for capacity to make a will is different from the test for capacity to make a medical decision. These tests also vary depending on the State or Territory.

A person with a disability or medical impairment can still have decision-making capacity

While a person may have a disability or medical condition, this does not mean that they lack decision-making capacity (the ability to make a decision). For example, a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia, mental illness, intellectual or other cognitive disability or acquired brain injury does not automatically mean a person cannot make their own decisions. Just because you disagree with a decision does not mean the person who made it lacks decision-making capacity.

A person can have decision-making capacity for some decisions but maybe not others

An individual may have capacity to decide where they live, pay their bills and buy groceries, but may not be able to make investment decisions about their money. They may be able to make a simple medical decision to have a blood test but lack the capacity to decide about complex medical decisions such as amputations.

Capacity is decision specific – it depends on the particular decision being made.

Decision-making capacity can fluctuate

Whether a person has decision-making capacity may also depend on environmental factors such as the time of day, location, noise or who is present. Capacity may be affected by personal stress or anxiety levels, medication, infection, drugs or alcohol.

People can be assisted or supported to make their own decision

Often there are easy ways to assist or support people to make their own decisions. For example: getting an interpreter, using plain language and simple sentences when communicating, using pictures or photos, writing things down, using technology,or finding a quiet comfortable place.

For further information on decision-making capacity go to our Resources.

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