The Sowerby Philosophy & Medicine Project and the Yeoh Tiong Lay Centre for Politics, Philosophy & Law are very pleased to announce our jointly organised colloquium:

“Law, Medical Power, and Minorities”
SpeakerProfessor Craig Konnoth (UVA)

Date and Time: 5-6:30 pm BST on Friday the 22nd of October, 2021
VenueThe Council Room, Strand Campus, King’s College London WC2R 2LS. This event will also be livestreamed (zoom link to be sent to registered ticketholders) and recorded.
Registration: You are warmly invited to register for the event here:

The state frequently uses medical discourse to impose unequal burdens on socially vulnerable groups. Recent examples that scholars exhaustively have documented include the targeting of Asian-Americans in the early days of COVID-19, the relative disregard of the pandemic’s harm on black and Latino communities, the active discrimination towards the reproductive health needs of women, the continued ban on blood donation by men who have sex with men, and the tendency to pressure people living with disabilities into treatment. While focusing on specific groups and incidents, however, the scholarship does not explore the deeper structural links of law and medicine that link the narratives of these groups together. 

This Article builds towards such a framework, by first situating law’s relationship with medical power. Actors seeking to produce legal change frequently invoke medical concepts, symbols, and language in multiple areas of law. Medical frameworks help exert epistemological power, that is, the ability to know when and whether an individual is “really” sick, and what that sickness entails. From epistemological power springs social power—the ability to distribute resources, engage in surveillance and control, and to excise abnormal groups or practices. Legal actors and institutions use these features of medical discourse to ignore evidence regarding minority medical experience—black people’s experience with pain, for example, create diagnostic categories that undermine and denormalize minority identity, deny access to resources that turn on medical diagnoses, and subject minorities to control and exclusion. Such practices map on to widely theorized frameworks of oppression. 

A structural understanding of how law uses medicine to oppress invites structural solutions. Scholarship in this space often offer one-off solutions that do not always address the structural roots of the harm involved. A program that builds on the framework I offer above would give greater voice to minorities, not just to voice the reality of their experience, but also to shape the diagnostic categories that affect them. It would shift resources towards reshaping social reality rather than physiology, as the disability rights movement has long recommended. And it would ally with medical justice movement to transform medicine into a space that can recognize, support, and protect our common vulnerability. 

About the Speaker
Professor Craig Konnoth writes in health and civil rights, as well as on health data regulation. He is also active in LGBT rights litigation, and has filed briefs in the U.S. Supreme Court and the Tenth Circuit on LGBT rights issues. His publications have appeared or will appear in the Yale Law Journal, the Stanford Law Review, the Hastings Law Journal, the University of Pennsylvania Law Review, the Iowa Law Review, the online companions to the Penn law review and the Washington & Lee Law Review, and as chapters in edited volumes

Konnoth formerly was an associate professor at the University of Colorado, where he ran the Health Law Certificate Program. Prior to Colorado, he was a Sharswood and Rudin Fellow at the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School and New York University Medical School, where he taught health information law, health law, and LGBT health law and bioethics.

Konnoth has also served as a deputy solicitor general with the California Department of Justice, where his docket primarily involved cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, and also before the California Supreme Court and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. His cases involved the contraceptive mandate in the Affordable Care Act, sexual orientation change efforts, Facebook privacy policies and cellphone searches. Before moving into government, Konnoth was the R. Scott Hitt Fellow in Law and Policy at the Williams Institute at UCLA Law School, where he focused on issues affecting same-sex partners, long-term care and Medicaid coverage issues, and drafted HIV rights legislation. He clerked for Judge Margaret McKeown of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.