John Libbey Eurotext

Sciences sociales et santé


At the borders of medical irresponsibility Physicians on trial at the beginning of the 19th century Volume 36, issue 4, Décembre 2018

* Janine Barbot, sociologue, INSERM (Institut national de la santé et de la recherche médicale), CEMS (Centre d’étude des mouvements sociaux, CNRS-EHESS), Ecole des hautes études en sciences sociales, 54 boulevard Raspail, 75006 Paris, France
  • Key words: justice, medicine, medical liability, lawsuits
  • DOI : 10.1684/sss.2018.0127
  • Page(s) : 65-92
  • Published in: 2018

The article explores debates that took place in France at the beginning of the 19th century on the legitimacy of courts to decide on questions relating to the practice of medicine. Though physicians and jurists had engaged with the issue of medical liability before those debates emerged, the latter constituted a momentum in those actors’ normative work on medical responsibility in contemporary era. Based on an analysis of a corpus of texts published in the cases of Hélie and Thouret-Noroy, the article examines clashes around two central issues: was it appropriate to make physicians justiciable before ordinary courts? Was it possible to form a judgement adjusted to medical practices in the courtroom? Around those two questions, different ways of looking at medical liability, or approaching the boundaries of physicians’ irresponsibility in the courts, had emerged. Drawing on sociological analysis of the exercise of judgement, the article intends to provide a new contribution to the study of the relationships between medicine and justice, and to their transformations on the long term.