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Pace University

Elisabeth Haub School of Law Faculty Publications

Bioethics and Medical Ethics

2022

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Narrative Capacity, James Toomey May 2022

Narrative Capacity, James Toomey

Elisabeth Haub School of Law Faculty Publications

The doctrine of capacity is a fundamental threshold to the protections of private law. The law only recognizes private decision-making—from exercising the right to transfer or bequeath property and entering into a contract to getting married or divorced—made with the level of cognitive functioning that the capacity doctrine demands. When the doctrine goes wrong, it denies individuals, particularly older adults, access to basic private-law rights on the one hand and ratifies decision-making that may tear apart families and tarnish legacies on the other.

The capacity doctrine in private law is built on a fundamental philosophical mismatch. It is grounded in …