Updated: Oct 6, 2021
It’s practically impossible to follow the news right now without seeing something about Britney Spears. But while the story about her current situation is all over the internet, it can be difficult to follow along with what’s actually going on. Especially when most of the media is missing a crucial point to the story: Spears’ situation is all too common.
Since 2008—in the midst of some infamous public incidences and receiving treatment for her mental health—Spears has been under a conservatorship led by her father, Jamie Spears.
A conservatorship is when someone assumes legal guardianship over another adult. Conservatorships are used when someone needs to take on guardianship to help deal with the medical and financial needs of a person, typically due to old age or serious medical conditions.
Britney Spears’ conservatorship under her father, which legally gave him the power to rule her person and her estate, began because of her mental health concerns. Her family and the court decided that she would be safest if she had a legal guardian to make decisions for her.
But since then, people have wondered if the conservatorship is protecting her at all.
Over the past few years, Spears' current situation has made headlines due to fans across the globe rallying together as part of the #FreeBritney movement after they became concerned for her wellbeing under her conservatorship. Fans have believed that Spears' conservatorship is against her will and that she is in danger. The movement was further spurred by their beliefs that she was using social media to communicate her unhappiness.
While this seemed unfounded at first, Spears recently appeared in court to end the conservatorship, which she has allegedly been trying to do for years. She explained how having her father as her legal guardian as an adult has been abusive, claiming that she is not allowed to marry her boyfriend nor remove her IUD.
It’s easy to see what’s so wrong with this situation. While the conservatorship may have been meant to protect Spears, she has been stripped of her right to make her own decisions. She has lost control over her own body. She has been denied her right to live freely and independently.
And even after her emotional address in court, the conservatorship continues, with the judge saying she can appoint a lawyer of her own choice to take charge of the legal battle.
But this narrative of denying people their rights isn’t a rarity; it’s all too common in the disability community.
It’s estimated that about 1.3 million people in the United States live under a conservatorship. And while some of these might be due to age or terminal illness, the truth is that many people with disabilities—especially those with intellectual disabilities—are under the guardianship of family members or others who have decided that the disabled person is incapable of making their own decisions regarding their person, healthcare, and finances.
While, like in Spears’ case, conservatorships exist to protect those who are under them, they can lead to abusive situations where protection turns into manipulation.
Conservatorships perpetuate the false idea that disabled people do not have the capability to make their own decisions, which simply isn’t true. While people with disabilities might require levels of support that aren’t necessary for others, they still deserve to have a level of independence that allows them to take part in the important decisions that affect their lives.
Conservatorships should be a last resort, and there are always alternatives—such as supported-decision making—that allow for others to provide decision-making support but do not completely strip someone from having power over their own life.
If someone as famous as Britney Spears cannot even escape her conservatorship, it’s fair to assume that it would be near impossible for a disabled person who does not have the same platform to regain independence. So, as we continue to watch Spears’ fight for freedom unfold before our eyes, we need to remember all those who are not on the front page in the media. We need to think about those with disabilities who are in similar situations, fighting to regain their independence in a society that doesn’t believe they deserve the same rights as everyone else.
Kayla Kingston is the Communications Specialist for MCIE. A recent graduate of the University of Dayton, she loves reading, writing, and supporting all things inclusion.