By: Kendra Landry
This summer, in working with the Bulgarian Center for Non-for-Profit Law, I have been helping to promote their Born Ready advocacy campaign. In line with the principles outlined in the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, we have been collecting signatures to advocate for supported decision-making to replace the existing guardianship regime in Bulgaria.
Currently, in Bulgaria, PWDs have little agency in their legal decisions, and are deprived of many basic human rights (to marry, to vote, to institute complaints with courts, etc.). Today, guardianship is indefinite, all-encompassing of individuals’ legal activity, and difficult to revoke. It is not subjected to periodic review, and ostensibly transforms PWDs into objects fully subordinated to their guardians. Individuals under guardianship are deprived of all access to the justice system. Guardianship affects all spheres of their public lives; as such, we have been advocating for the dismantling of this damaging regime.
The Born Ready campaign advocates for the enactment of legal tools to ensure equal treatment for PWDs. Supported decision-making has been proposed as an alternative to guardianship in Bulgaria and would allow for PWDs to express their wishes and exercise their legal rights. This regime saw great success in a 2012 pilot initiative and allowed over 150 PWDs previously under guardianship to be self-determining – albeit with a trusted supporting person to assist in making decisions about their private lives, health, finances, and property. Here, individuals control their decision-making, and are protected from undue influence, violence, and abuse in their trusted relationships with supporting persons.
Here is the link to BCNL’s change.org petition, if you’re interested in signing: https://www.change.org/p/let-s-put-an-end-to-the-guardianship-in-bulgaria-now?signed=true. Petitions are an important form of advocacy in Bulgaria, as they garner community support, and will help the campaign gain traction with the National Assembly.
It has been interesting to work on this project with the BCNL, especially as guardianship/conservatorship abuse has been at the forefront of popular media. This summer, news of Britney Spears’ abusive conservatorship has prompted global outrage and engendered the #FreeBritney movement; Spears’ fight to end her conservatorship showcases that PWDs under these regimes are rarely listened to, their disabilities and mental health issues weaponized as justifications to restrict their agency, free will, and self-determination.
Spears’ recent testimony has gone viral in the past few weeks; she pointed out that – despite her ability to work, tour, and generate money for her conservators – she has been subjected to striking restrictions, unable to make decisions about her own body/healthcare, and even barred from riding around in her boyfriend’s car. As she fights to charge her family with conservatorship abuse, she continues to shine a spotlight on injustices that affect PWDs from across the globe. Her case is a high-profile example of the dangers that quietly affect thousands of people in North America, Bulgaria, and beyond; it exemplifies why guardianship/conservatorships must be abolished and replaced with less restrictive regimes that account for the wishes and needs of PWDs.