All he wanted was a doctor's visit, it turned into years of litigation

Lajos runs his errands on his own, he works, and his family can count on him on a daily basis; still, the state wanted to put him under guardianship. It is derogatory and depressing that a guardianship process can be initiated based on one unsubstantiated hospital note. By initiating a guardianship procedure, social services can subject anyone to litigation for years, provided that one doctor thinks that this person is unable to make responsible decisions about their own life due to a psychiatric disorder. Fortunately, Lajos fought back.

Lajos lives in a town in Pest county, shuttling between his siblings since the death of his parents. He lives with autism and schizophrenia and has minor hearing loss. He can rely on his relatives and has secured the assistance of NGOs which help people with disabilities. Even though he was living an orderly life, after a hospital treatment, the court of guardians applied for guardianship excluding capacity and deprivation of the right to vote, which would have meant that in all areas of his life, his guardian would have made life decisions for Lajos. This includes where he would live, how much of his own money he would be allowed to spend, and what healthcare treatment he should receive.

At first instance, the court decided in favour of the court of guardians, but this decision was contested by Lajos, who lodged a hand-written appeal. During the appeal, we met Lajos and provided him with further legal assistance, so that he could decide about his own life. Lajos is completely independent; if he should still need help, he is able to ask for assistance. Additionally, he helps his family by babysitting his nephew after school or helping his brother pay the bills.

Litigation regarding Lajos’s case lasted three years. After this extremely lengthy period of litigation, Social Services, who had initiated the whole procedure, suddenly requested that the court terminate the procedure. Why this turnaround? Why did the court of guardians suddenly think what Lajos had been continuously repeating for three years (during which TASZ represented him) that putting him under guardianship was not reasonable? The answer is that the exceptionally thorough expert opinion issued in the course of the trial, which states unequivocally that Lajos is able to make responsible decisions about his own life and recognises the consequences of his decisions.

Unfortunately, we’ve experienced instances where psychiatric expert opinions are written from a medical point of view and do not elaborate in detail on the rate at which the disability of a person hinders them in everyday life and, moreover, with what help these difficulties can be overcome. For example, in a previous expert opinion on Lajos, the following incorrect statements were included: “unable to take care of himself. Unable to lead an independent life.” Therefore, we asked the judge to appoint a new expert. We recommended conscientious experts to the court, which took our recommendations into account. Thanks to the thorough examination, the new expert opinion states that Lajos is fully oriented, able to take care of himself and can function in his day-to-day life.

This shows that the road to guardianship is often paved with prejudicial thinking regarding psychiatric conditions. Sloppy and simplified expert opinions are easily caught in the traps of such prejudicial thinking. The conclusive expert opinion fought for by us correctly points out that a psychiatric condition is often stigmatised, but that fact itself does not render guardianship reasonable. “Irrational, emotion-based decision-making is not necessarily the symptom of some mental illness but may be part of the freedom of choice of all people.”

We are not living in a vacuum: everyone needs help sometimes. All people are different in that varying levels of advice are necessary when faced with difficult life decisions. No one should be deprived of their right to make decisions just because they are differently abled.

It is the job of the state to help its citizens be able to make appropriate decisions concerning their own lives. The solution to this is not the outdated institution of guardianship, which is currently dominated by medical criteria instead of human rights aspects. Support systems are needed to ensure that everybody receives the support they need to make decisions without deprivation of any rights. This is why it is a tremendous success that a public institution (the court of guardians) admitted that guardianship would not provide appropriate social aid to Lajos, who requires psychological support, a community of peers, work and housing opportunities, not somebody else deciding for him.

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