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Prof. Allison Hoffman’s forthcoming essay explains how medicalization of civil rights could disappoint

August 25, 2020

In an essay forthcoming in the Stanford Law Review Online, University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School Professor of Law Allison Hoffman cautions that “medicalization may not cure all that ails civil rights litigation’s pains” and, in fact, there are several potential risks involved with “overinvesting in medical rights-seeking.”

In “How Medicalization of Civil Rights Could Disappoint,” Hoffman responds to former Sharswood Fellow Craig Konnoth’s recent article, “Medicalization and the New Civil Rights,” which, Hoffman writes, “is a carefully crafted and thought-provoking description of the refashioning of civil rights claims into medical rights frameworks.” Hoffman writes that Konnoth’s proposal “threads together many intellectual traditions – from antidiscrimination law to disability law to health law – to illustrate the pervasiveness of the phenomenon that he describes and why it might be productive as a tool to advance civil rights.”

Hoffman theorizes, however, that “medicalization could produce a sociological narrowing that could eventually limit how we think about justice.” She cautions that while recognizing the potentially physical ways in which discrimination may manifest, “there may be downsides of overly focusing on these physical manifestations of discrimination.” She also speculates that “even the utilitarian benefits that medical framing is now producing might diminish as medicalization becomes a new situs for civil rights contests.”

Hoffman concludes her essay with a timely consideration of the COVID-19 pandemic and how it “has produced a dramatic manifestation of social inequities growing out of decades of civil rights deprivation” as instructive to elucidate possible benefits and risks of the medicalization of civil rights.

Hoffman is an expert on health care law and policy, notably health insurance regulation, the Affordable Care Act, Medicare and retiree healthcare expenses, and long-term care. Her current work examines public options and idea of choice in health care; considers the future of long-term care, nursing homes, and end of life care policies and regulation especially in light of COVID-19; and critiques how economic theory has overly shaped the development of health law and policy.

Hoffman teaches Health Law, Health Law Reform, and Torts at Penn Law and was awarded the Robert A. Gorman Award for Excellence in Teaching in 2018-19.

Read more Law School faculty papers and publications.