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Legal and ethical issues in social and health services to young people with intellectual disabilities who want to be part of the ‘sexual scene’.

Legal and ethical issues in social and health services to young people with intellectual disabilities who want to be part of the ‘sexual scene’.

Since 1999 Norwegian law has regulated the use of force in caring for people with Intellectual Disabilities ID. The governing principles in these regulations are that force should never be exercised where alternatives, not involving the use of force, may be optional – and force should never be used, unless actual and considerable damage to the individual or his/her physical or social surroundings is a likely outcome of not intervening. These legal principles also apply to restrictions that service providers may put on an individual’s access to the Internet or using his/her mobile phone in establishing social contacts, which could be potentially harmful – i.e. lead to physical or psychological abuse.

This places service providers in an ethically challenging position: they may observe that an individual puts him-/herself in a potentially dangerous situation – yet the actual danger might not be so concrete or imminent that interventions are warranted. The rights of the individual to make its own choices regarding intimate relationships is held up against the responsibility of service providers to protect him/her against exploitation, STD’s and unwanted pregnancies.

Clinical cases will be presented to illustrate and discuss these legal and ethical issues. Some general points to be considered in such cases will be listed, and implications for clinical practice will be discussed. It will be argued that focusing on legal and ethical issues is important – not only in securing the rights of the individual, but also in guiding the clinician when considering intervention strategies.

Conference: WAS Glasgow 2011