Decision-making capacity (or simply, “capacity”) refers to a person’s ability to make decisions. Examples range from simple decisions about what to have for breakfast, to whether to go to the doctor when feeling ill, to far-reaching decisions about serious medical treatment or financial matters.

In New Zealand legislation, both “capacity” and “competence” are used interchangeably. In a clinical context, “competence” tends to refer to the process of decision-making, and capacity to the legal term that is used. In this toolkit, the term “capacity” is used throughout.

Deciding whether a person has the capacity to make a particular decision has legal implications and in some cases may need to be determined at a court hearing. A capacity assessment is part of the evidence that informs the legal decision. There are legal tests which are applied to determine whether a person has capacity to make specific decisions or whether someone else or the court, a substitute decision-maker, should make decisions for them.

  © 2020 Alison Douglass