Law, Environmental Illness and Medical Uncertainty
The Contested Governance of Health
Routledge – 2015 – 202 pages
Series: Social Justice
We’ve seen it before, with asbestos-related disease, leukaemia clusters and lung cancer caused by cigarettes. There tends to be a lag between the emergence of environmental risks and chemical injuries, and their recognition and therapeutic treatment by medicine and the law. Law, Environmental Illness and Medical Uncertainty examines how our society governs new health concerns as they emerge, and the barriers that face new and uncertain theories seeking recognition in the law.
In this book, Tarryn Phillips focuses her investigation on the struggle over the controversial condition multiple chemical sensitivities, or MCS (also known as environmental illness). Presenting nine case studies where workers sought compensation for MCS from their multinational employers, she captures a nuanced portrait of their embittered, unequal battles over the scientific, legal and insurance paradigms for understanding toxic risk, environmental illness and the regulation of industry. It draws on three years of fieldwork in Australia, including interview data with lay people and sympathetic and sceptical experts, participant observation in the courtroom and textual analysis of official reports.
The book gives a unique, ethnographic insight into the governance of risk and uncertainty within a neoliberal economy, medico-scientific controversies and courtroom dramas. It highlights how a skeptical approach towards emergent environmental concerns is encouraged within the current regime, and decision-makers face disincentives for taking a sympathetic approach. Compellingly written and easy to read, it should appeal widely to interested lay people, and students and scholars of science and technology studies, medical anthropology, sociology of health and illness, and critical legal studies.
"[This book] promises to be a very valuable work by a scholar who is already starting to be recognised in this field. The topic – the processes by which environmental illnesses become recognised by medicine and by the law – is a very important one. The focus, multiple chemical sensitivity, is perhaps the king of contested illnesses, inherently raising issues over its definition and causality."
Dr Anna Lora-Wainwright, University of Oxford
"The use of the detailed personal narratives of various actors in the medico-legal field of MCS is brilliant ethnography; it brings the abstract legal and medical questions of cause and effect into focus in a very human, not to say humane, way. Given the poignancy of the stories the author tells, and their human interest, I suspect that this is one of those relatively rare cases in which a scholarly book will have appeal beyond the academic realm."
Louis E. Wolcher, Charles I. Stone Professor of Law, University of Washington
Chapter 1: Introducing the Disease of Uncertainty, Chapter 2: Knowledge and Power at the Medico-Legal Interface, Chapter 3: Risk Entrepreneurialism: The Social Construction of Toxicity and Disease, Chapter 4: The Medico-Legal Illness Narratives, Chapter 5: Medical, Legal and Insurance Reasoning in the Governance of Uncertainty, Chapter 6: The Deviance of Sympathetic Experts, Chapter 7: Non-legal Governance and Epistemological Possibilities, Chapter 8: Neoliberalism, Scepticism and Toxic Knowledge, Conclusion: Environmental Illness and The Role of the Law
Tarryn Phillips is an anthropologist and lecturer in Legal Studies at La Trobe University. Her interests lie in social justice and inequality. She researches how medicine and the law manage uncertainty, define and punish deviance and interact with their socio-cultural surroundings