Students Staff

15 September 2011

AHRC Autonomy Summer School launches

When does an individual have the mental capacity to make a decision for themselves?

This is a dilemma faced every day by frontline professionals working as doctors, nurses, social workers, psychiatrists and solicitors when dealing with clients and patients.

Philosophers at the University of Essex are now bringing together representatives from the NHS, social work, local government and the legal profession to talk through the ethical and legal dilemmas surrounding the assessment of mental capacity and the ideal of personal autonomy.

This week’s first-ever Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) Autonomy Summer School will be attended by professionals from across the country. They are keen to work with Essex philosophers on developing best practice and effective guidance – particularly in relation to the interpretation of the Mental Capacity Act and the Mental Health Act.

The event has been organised by the Essex Autonomy Project, a major research initiative based at Essex and funded by the AHRC, which is also working on this issue with national policy makers and leading judges.

Principal investigator Professor Wayne Martin said: “Professionals we speak to are regularly finding themselves in situations where there is a question over whether individuals have the mental capacity to make decisions for themselves.

“The feedback to our work so far has been very positive which shows people are really hungry for a context where they can think through the challenges they are encountering in practice.”

Key issues set to be discussed at the three-day summer school range from consent and capacity assessments to supported and substituted decision-making. Those attending will also discuss real case studies and exchange experiences.

The summer school is just one part of the EAP, which also launched a programme of workshops this month which the project team plan to deliver around the country. The Autonomy in Practice modules cover consent, best-interest decision making, Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards, capacity assessments and philosophical perspectives on autonomy.

Professor Martin said: “We are working closely with social workers, lawyers, doctors, police officers, judges, psychiatrists and people from many other professions to try to clarify some of the fraught ethical and psychological issues that arise in these circumstances of contested autonomy.”

To find out more about the Essex Autonomy Project see

For more information contact the University of Essex Communications Office on 01206 874377

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