Speeding Up Slow Deaths:
Medical Sovereignty circa 2005

Lisa Diedrich


In this essay, I take up the question of the time of medicine in relation to two events in the U.S. from 2005—the Terri Schiavo case and Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. I consider both cases as “mediatized medical events,” that is, as events in which the practices of medicine received considerable media attention at a particular historical moment; or, we might say, as events that brought a convergence between media and medical practices. I juxtapose these two events because, placed side by side, they help make visible two stories of catastrophe, as well as the many difficulties of telling stories of catastrophe. Bringing together these seemingly divergent events allows me to draw connections that I hope will expand our bioethical imaginary beyond the reductive approaches that tend to dominate the practice of bioethics today. I also juxtapose them to signal a bioethical tension at the heart of the neoliberal state’s response to catastrophe in general, what Foucault might have diagnosed as the difference between making live and letting die. In these two events, we glimpsed—if only fleetingly—the state’s operation of making live and letting die, and medicine’s central role in that operation, as well as the re-assertion of medical sovereignty in crisis events.


medicine; bio-convergence; bioconvergence; biopolitics; medical sovereignty; mediatized medical events; bioethics; Terri Schiavo; Hurricane Katrina

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