Intended for healthcare professionals


Voting and mental capacity

BMJ 2010; 341 doi: (Published 25 August 2010) Cite this as: BMJ 2010;341:c4085
  1. Marcus Redley, senior research associate1,
  2. Julian C Hughes, honorary professor of philosophy of ageing2,
  3. Anthony Holland, health foundation chair in learning disability1
  1. 1Cambridge Intellectual and Development Disabilities Research Group, Section of Developmental Psychiatry, Department of Psychiatry, University of Cambridge, Cambridge CB2 8AH
  2. 2North Tyneside General Hospital, North Shields, Tyne and Wear NE29 8NH and Institute for Ageing and Health, Newcastle University
  1. mr382{at}

    Voting is a political right, not a matter of competence to make decisions

    In England, 700 000 people have dementia and 1.2 million have a learning disability.1 2 Many of these will have wanted to vote in this year’s UK general election and had the mental capacity to do so, but a substantial proportion may not have had the opportunity.

    This is important because the number of people living in democracies worldwide is increasing. If people are denied the opportunity to vote (because they are not encouraged to register or because voting is not facilitated) their rights as citizens are undermined. Furthermore, because the ways to vote (and consequently to vote fraudulently) are increasing, if a vote is cast for someone who lacks capacity, democracy may be undermined. Capacity increasingly causes difficulties for both paid and family carers, as Livingston and colleagues highlight in the linked study (doi:10.1136/bmj.c4184),3 so it seems inevitable that doctors will be asked to assess capacity to vote.

    The first concern is a lack of clear advice. In the United Kingdom, …

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