Performing hepatitis C – new research explores legal performances of hepatitis C before and after cure

As part of its ambitious agenda to eliminate hepatitis C by 2030, efforts are underway in Australia to reduce hepatitis C-related stigma and discrimination. As part of this, it is important to investigate and understand the laws and legal mechanisms that affect people who have – and have been treated for – hepatitis C, and how these might generate, perpetuate, exacerbate, or reduce stigma experienced by people who have – or have had – the virus.  

Our latest paper, recently published in the journal Law and Literature, investigates constructions of hepatitis C in Australian law. In our analysis, we apply performance theory to investigate how hepatitis C is performed in legal proceedings and how the introduction of direct-acting antiviral (DAA) treatment has (re-)shaped conceptualisations of hepatitis C from something that is viewed, in legal contexts, a ‘disability’ to something that is seen as readily ‘curable’. This research was part of a larger project titled ‘Addressing hepatitis C-related legal, policy and practice discrimination in a post-cure world’, which sought, among other things, to map legal, policy and practice frameworks impacting people with (a history of) hepatitis C.  

What we found is that in cases heard and decided since the advent and widespread availability of the new, more effective treatments, and once the possibility of cure became apparent, people with hepatitis C were no longer conceptualised as disabled for the purposes of social security law. People with hepatitis C were enjoined to undertake treatment on the basis that it would move them into a utopian future in which the virus has a negligible impact on their life – or, at the least, enable them to become productive citizens with the capacity to work.  

We also found that, in migration and refugee cases, once hepatitis C is treated and cured, it is cast as something that no longer affects the life of a person. This means that now a person with hepatitis C is more likely than in the pre-DAA era to face visa cancellations and refoulment on the basis that treatment for hepatitis C is more readily available in migrants’ and asylum seekers’ home countries.  

However, while hepatitis C is recast in post-DAA cases as temporary, the stigma associated with it – and potentially exacerbated though the telling and retelling of one’s status before a court of law – may be more lasting. The mark of hepatitis C remains present even post treatment, at the very least in the legal documents in which the lives of people affected by the virus are recorded.  

You can read the full article here

Citation: Mulcahy, S., Seear, K., Fraser, S., Farrugia, A., Kagan, D., Lenton, E. & valentine, k., ‘Performing hepatitis C, problematising “cure”: The construction of hepatitis C (cure) in social security and migration law’. Law and Literature.