Simone Weil the French mystic, philosopher and social activist wrote, "Intelligence is enlightened by love." So is legislation.
After a nearly 25 year journey the British Columbia government recently affirmed the status of Representation Agreements, a grass roots alternative to formal adult guardianship. This ends numerous attempts to claw back its usefulness.
Rep Agreements are unique to B.C. as far as I know – the result of a community based coalition formed in the eighties that attracted advocates, health care professionals, administrators, lawyers, public servants and concerned citizens.
Rep Agreements enable you to choose whom you want to support you make decisions as a result of illness, injury or disability. Everyone can use them including people who traditionally are assumed not to have legal 'capacity.' And that's the breakthrough. Typically people with presumed intellectual incapacity have been excluded from using personal planning tools like powers of attorney, advance directives, living wills or consent to health care.
The pioneering aspect of the Representation Agreement Act is its enlightened approach to this legal concept of 'capacity.'
For the first time anywhere, relationships characterized by trust are legitimized in statute as a key criterion in determining capacity. The law has finally caught up with what we have always known – relationships are the key to safety, security and a good life. In effect this B.C. law recognizes social intelligence.
Rep Agreements enable people who traditionally would be deemed incompetent, to determine who they want to support them make decisions. This includes many seniors, people with disabilities, brain injuries or mental illness. To date over 5,000 Rep Agreements have been registered with Nidus and likely a similar number have been created independently. Certainly most of PLAN's lifetime members have created one.
And that's the point, Rep Agreements are a low cost, legally enforceable tool which validates the caring and support provided by friends, families and network members.
The organizational legacy of the coalition is the Nidus Personal Planning Resource Centre and Registry. Nidus is celebrating the consolidation of Rep Agreements as a permanent personal planning tool during September. Visit their celebration website here.
Here is the contribution I wrote for their celebration:
The creation of the Representation Agreement is a powerful example of citizens taking action to improve how we take care of each other. Like all creative acts it started with a simple but transformational insight.
We are kept safest, our choices are respected and our life has meaning, texture and pizzazz in the company of family and friends.
In most circumstances we don't need a costly professional system.
We need each other.
That was the driving force behind the grass roots coalition that invented and ushered Representation Agreements into existence.
That is also the driving force behind those of us who have Rep
Agreements or who have become representatives.
Imagine this. Enshrined, indeed shining in British Columbia law for
the first time anywhere in the world, a declaration that trust and
caring relationships are critical to sound decision making. There
is more to legal competence and good decision making than IQ. There is our natural commitment to each other.
Inspired by love, Representation Agreements offer something
extraordinary – they are a practical grass roots alternative to
formal guardianship. They are also symbolic of our capacity to care for each other. In our modern world they remind us that we have each other, that we rely on each other, that we care for each other.
Three cheers for the citizens, grass roots advocates, allies,
professionals, public who made Rep Agreements possible.
Note: The custodian of the Rep Agreement vision and the curator of its potential is Joanne Taylor, Executive Director of Nidus. Joanne has devoted a large chunk of her life to spreading the word about Rep Agreements and assisting with timely information and advice. Joanne works tirelessly and without fanfare.
She is indeed a labourer of love. Simone Weil had people like her in mind.