The judicialization of biopolitics: Claiming the right to pharmaceuticals in Brazilian courts

by João Biehl

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(image: [aesurl]/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2013/07/biehl-figure-10-500px-300x199.jpg alt: The staff of the Public Defender’s Office in Porto Alegre tells pensioner Alcinda Moreira what documents she needs to successfully file a lawsuit for treatment access, Porto Alegre, August 2011. Photo by Torben Eskerod.

The staff of the Public Defender’s Office in Porto Alegre tells pensioner Alcinda Moreira what documents she needs to successfully file a lawsuit for treatment access, Porto Alegre, August 2011. Photo by Torben Eskerod.

) The staff of the Public Defender’s Office in Porto Alegre tells pensioner Alcinda Moreira what documents she needs to successfully file a lawsuit for treatment access, Porto Alegre, August 2011. Photo: Torben Eskerod.By João BiehlFull Article: onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/amet.12030/abstract

In Brazil, low- and middle-income patients are not waiting for new medical technologies to trickle down. They are using free legal assistance and a responsive judiciary to access health care, now understood as access to pharmaceuticals. The pharmaceuticalization and judicialization of health reveal an experiential-political-economic field beyond the biopolitics of populations. At stake in this field are the ways in which government (qua drug regulator, purchaser, and distributor) facilitates a more direct relationship, in the form of technology access, between atomized and ambiguous political subjects of rights and the biomedical market. Not fully governed by either state or market, these subjects negotiate the constraints and possibilities of a technological society using jurisprudence. They work through available legal mechanisms and instantiate new social fields to engage and adjudicate their demands, concretizing abstract human rights. In the process, the judiciary is consolidated as a critical site of politics—and of political economy.