In December I read an interesting essay about conservatorships and its intersection with disability rights from a newsletter I get every day, The Anti-Racism Daily (ARD). This held some interest for me, because two and a half years ago, I participated in a guardianship proceedings for a relative.
Shortly after that, I wrote a blog post that discussed in general terms some of the lessons I learned from my experience participating in the hearing. I don’t know if I want to reveal greater detail about that experience because I will be posting this online. I always post that there is something new in the blog every week on Facebook and Twitter. Potentially people who know the relative that was the subject of the guardianship hearing would find out more about it. I don’t want to invade my relative’s privacy.
Because of confidentiality and not wanting to hurt anyone’s feelings, I will frame my discussion in a more neutral manner. According to ARD, 1.3 million people with psychiatric, developmental, intellectual, or age-related disabilities have some kind of conservatorship. Recently Brittany Spears’ successful fight to end her conservatorship shone a light on the need for reform. The ARD post makes the point that the courts most often establish conservatorships for the care of disabled people. Because of “ableist” views about the capabilities of many disabled people, often a conservatorship will take away almost all their rights. Brittany Spears claims that her conservator forced her to get an IUD.
Brittany Spears is a rich white woman. When conservatorships intersect with our racist society, the consequences can be devastating. “While shocking, reproductive coercion and forced sterilization have been used against disabled women, especially women of color, to prevent ‘undesirable’ traits and disabilities from spreading.”
After reading the ARD essay, I reflected, once again, on my experience participating in the guardianship proceeding. My relative resides in a nursing home and their account was in arrears. I can’t really explain why that happened. I just know that in June of 2019 I received a legal document indicating that the facility was seeking a financial guardianship to retrieve a large sum of money.
State law dictates the regulation of guardianships and conservatorships. The stringency of such measures varies. In New York, where the hearing took place, it seemed clear to me that the court saw a big difference between a financial guardianship and a personal one and was trying to put the least number of restrictions possible on my relative.
Currently my thinking about all this is in the middle. I know that I have always wanted my relative to be safe and if the only way to achieve that was by a guardianship or conservatorship, I would support that. I do realize that the relative could have different ideas about this. The rules for these kinds of controls should err on the side of being the least restrictive possible for the concerned individual. Although that is what I believe intellectually, I can’t help but wish that many years ago someone could have intervened and therefore my relative would have had a better outcome.