July 29, 2013

The guardianship system in our country raises serious concerns.

The July 21 front-page article “Jenny’s declaration of independence” is a strong illustration of the system’s overreach in action. The story focused on Jenny Hatch, a vibrant 29-year-old in a battle over who controls her life. As Ms. Hatch said clearly: “I don’t need guardianship. I don’t want it.”

If anyone else had been required to live somewhere against her will, with limited communication with the outside world, as Ms. Hatch was, she would either be able to lodge a charge of kidnapping or would be a prisoner convicted of a crime. But because Ms. Hatch is a person with a disability, such actions are completely legal, even though she has done nothing wrong.

Guardianship can, and often does, deprive a person of the ability to choose where she lives, whom she sees, when she gets up in the morning, what she eats for breakfast, whether and where she works and whether she can vote.

Less restrictive options are available, including powers of attorney for health care or financial matters, and “supported decision-making.” Both options give people with disabilities greater control of their lives. We should explore these options first, rather than reflexively stripping people of their fundamental right to live with independence, freedom and dignity. Disability is no excuse to deprive someone of her basic civil liberties.

Susan Mizner, San Francisco

The writer is disability counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union.