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Rhetorical look at Medical Law book launched by Centre for Law and Society

19 June 2017

Professor John Harrington (pictured centre) with Professor Martin Kayman, Professor Gary Watt, Professor Marie-Andrée Jacob and Professor Jiri Priban.
Professor John Harrington (pictured centre) with Professor Martin Kayman, Professor Gary Watt, Professor Marie-Andrée Jacob and Professor Jiri Priban.

The Centre for Law and Society recently held a launch event for a new book described as “an interdisciplinary tour de force” that “sheds new light on debates in medical ethics and law”.

The book, Towards a Rhetoric of Medical Law, has been written by Professor of Global Health Law, John Harrington and was shortlisted for the Legal Theory Book Prize of the Socio-Legal Studies Association earlier this year. It was made possible by a fellowship of the Arts and Humanities Research Council. It offers a radical new interpretation of medical law as a type of rhetoric.

Judges, litigants, academics and legislators are always attempting to persuade others about the content of the law on health care and about how it should be changed. How they do this and whether they succeed depends on the authority which they project for themselves, the feelings which they provoke in their audiences and their use of legal precedents and policy arguments.

The rhetoric of medical law has developed over the years under the influence of changes in the organisation of the National Health Service. Rhetorical study will show us how the move away from medical paternalism towards patient consumerism has been reflected in the law. But also, how shifts in medical law provoke greater political change. The advance of women’s rights in British society is closely connected to changes in the law on abortion and contraception and the arguments made for them over the last 50 years.

The book draws on classical rhetoric, from the work of Aristotle and Cicero, and also modern cultural studies, in particular the Welsh writer Raymond Williams. It combines these approaches with historical studies of welfare state and post-war Britain to analyse leading medical law cases and statutes, as well as the academic commentary on them.

The event was open to all, and was attended by staff and research students from across the University. The event was chaired by Professor Jiri Priban of the School of Law and Politics and featured three speakers: Professor Martin Kayman of the School of English, Communications and Philosophy, Professor Gary Watt of the University of Warwick and Professor Marie-Andree Jacob of the University of Keele.

Professor Harrington’s next book will extend his rhetorical approach to the development of health law in countries of the global south. The book, entitled Figuring the Nation in Global Health Law examines the impact of international standards on national law and policy, with a particular focus on Kenya. It will be published by Routledge in 2017 as part of their series on Law, Development and Globalization.