Pathology, Experts and the Law: Lessons from a case study of involuntary admission to psychiatric facilities

Monday, November 18, 2019 12:30to14:00
Chancellor Day Hall NCDH 200, 3644 rue Peel, Montreal, QC, H3A 1W9, CA
Free, but RSVP required.

Please join us for the second McGill Research Group on Health and Law (RGHL) seminar of the year delivered by Dr. Agnieszka Doll, Postdoctoral Fellow with the RGHL.

Space is limited. Kindly RSVP by emailing rghl.law [at] mcgill.ca.

This event is eligible for inclusion as 1.5 hours of continuing legal education as reported by members of the Barreau du Québec.


Critical mental health and socio-legal scholars have demonstrated that psychiatric expert knowledge is foundational to judicial decision making in a broad range of cases, and that judges rely uncritically on facts and diagnoses established by psychiatrists. Yet psychiatrists also tend to rely uncritically on facts established by other actors in medical files.

Using ethnographic research methods, I examine how facts and truths about mental illness and dangerousness are produced in involuntary admission (also called civil commitment) cases in Poland. In this presentation, I will look specifically at the role of paramedics, who, as a first response team, generate facts about mental illness. These facts are then featured in the work of other medical and legal professionals involved in these cases.

The presentation will focus on how seemingly objective fact-finding by paramedics and other professionals is shaped by institutional priorities within the context of civil commitment, with an important impact on practice. Engaging with these technicalities of knowledge and document production allows to move beyond arguments about ‘implicit bias’ in attitudes of individual decisionmakers, and toward an understanding of how legal and psychiatric opinions are systemically generated. The presentation will conclude with commentaries on gaps and inadequacies within current approaches to civil commitment that flow from these insights.

About the speaker

Dr. Agnieszka Doll is a Postdoctoral Fellow with the Research Group on Health and Law at McGill University's Faculty of Law. Before entering academia, she was a lawyer in Poland. Her research focuses on legal and social regimes pertaining to psychiatric involuntary hospitalization, processes of knowledge production, professional practices, institutions, socio-legal studies, gender and law, and qualitative and feminist methodologies. Agnieszka Doll is particularly interested in the medico-legal borderland. In her doctoral thesis, Lawyering for the ‘Mad’: Institutional Ethnography of Involuntary Admission to Psychiatric Facilities in Poland, she explored ethnographically the socio-legal organization of the procedure for involuntary psychiatric admission decisions in Poland, and the work of legal aid lawyers who represent people subjected to forced institutionalization. Currently she is developing a project on gender and post-psychiatric hospital reintegration.


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