dignity of risk


have been doing some research this afternoon for a grievance/ human rights case i am working on involving a workplace member with a head injury which has brought me to some interesting policy and case law. one of the avenues that i am exploring (only discovered today) is the concept of the right to “dignity of risk”.

dignity of risk appears to generally be an argument used in cases where individuals are assessed to have cognitive impairments – including mental illness, developmental issues, and neuro-injuries that are deemed to have caused long-term harm – cases where individuals are traditionally been denied the right to make decisions for themselves on the grounds that they are not able to make reasoned and informed choices, thus putting themselves at risk.

the concept is very simple – it hinges on the right to assume personal risk and thus make decisions for oneself – and proponents for this right argue that the only way we do develop, learn and grow as beings is through taking risks and failing or suceeding in the decisions we make every day. if this essential part of our being is taken away from us, then we are stunted – and to take it away from others amounts to a cruel discrimination which curtails all sorts of opportunities afforded to others every day.

the reality is – people who are classed as “normal” in mental functioning – are allowed to make their own decisions and take their own risks all the time – no matter how ridiculous they are, or how often they fail to learn from past mistakes. once you reach adulthood, there is virtually nothing stopping you from making really bad choices – unless you become classed as the “other” and thus incapable of looking after oneself.

it is true that some impairments are so severe as to put an individual at risk if they were not to be assisted in their decision making – but in so many cases, people with head injuries, developmental disabilities or mental illness are more than capable of making decisions in their own best interest – if only society would grant them the chance. there is such a great stigma attached to even slight mental impairments – as though we must return people to a state of childhood dependence rather than learn to deal with them on their terms. i suppose it is easier for us to take agency away from others than to adapt our own wants in a situation of relating to them. in this case i am working on, i really do feel that this is the situation – and so there is an undercurrent of every day discrimination that threatens to force this person from their job as if they are forever incapable because of an accident that impaired some functions (but not most of them).

dignity of risk is one of the arguments that might work in a case like this though, which is why i’m working late, trying to locate case law that might apply in a situation like this…. thought i would post my thoughts here as i worked through them.

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