Ruth Fletcher, ‘Witnessing Medical Law’

Medical law has given a lot of space to the witness as an external source of knowledge, knowledge which law needs but cannot generate by itself. This witness is conventionally perceived as an outsider, a third party to legal process and an independent source of expertise about what counts in people’s lives before the law. Here I offer an alternative critical approach, one that builds on feminist accounts of situated and embodied witnessing. Rather than counter hidden and hierarchical knowledge-making with more transparency in legal witnessing processes, this approach offers a way of working with witnessing that engages with partial, half-hidden meanings. ‘Cheeky witnessing’ fleshes out the role of observation as a kind of improvisation with public legal consciousness, an improvisation which plays with core medico-legal concepts, such as choice, and could be seen at work in the campaign to repeal Ireland’s restrictive abortion law in 2018. This is a witnessing that makes the experience of migrants and reproductive labourers central to the call for choice, and draws inspiration from the Global South, while decentring liberal epistemology and demedicalising authority over reproduction. In assembling a collection of such witnessing practices, we can make available a set of knowledges which work with the partiality and incompleteness of law, and provide stimulation and sustenance in the struggle for justice. By reproducing with other legal sources and making care-ful connections, witnessing could also be a critical legal method of drawing on abolitionist and critical race perspectives. Such perspectives seek to make everyday care an alternative to everyday carcerality, and to repair the health and welfare of those who are living with the legacy of colonial theft.

Fletcher, Ruth, Witnessing Medical Law (July 15, 2021). The Critical Law Pocketbook (Counterpress, forthcoming).

First posted 2021-11-06 12:00:43

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