Recent reports on Britney Spears’ guardianship (“What’s conservatorship? Ask Britney Spears,” Kimberly Atkins Stohr, Opinion, July 16) focus on personal autonomy vs. the role the state grants to a guardian when an individual’s capacity for self-care is seen as limited. Variability of rules from state to state and oversight of guardianship also have been discussed.
Missing in these commentaries is the way the person in question may grow and change. In assessing the need for guardianship, the court’s view of a person seems to get frozen in time.
Missing are several perspectives: the ups and downs in the individual’s current functioning (evident in Spears at the time of the conservatorship, in 2008); the possibility of episodes of limited capacity, as opposed to fixed deficits; the likelihood of change with treatment and with emerging maturity; and the role of recovery over time.
Relying on the snapshot of a given day meets some judicial needs, to be sure. But it misses what we know about many troubling conditions, freezes our view of growth and development, and violates human rights.
The legal system needs support from the mental health system emphasizing growth and recovery. Beware of assessments or categorical diagnoses that may make things appear fixed over time.
Dr. Gordon Harper
Dr. Donna M. Norris
The authors are psychiatrists.