Date: 23 Mar 2007

Trading Signs: Semiotic Practices in Law and Medicine

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Abstract

Lawyers write, blog and are otherwise producers of words; they structure public life through legal discourse and integrate all issues that reinforce legal reasoning. Even if one is inclined not to justify the power of their words in the context of a democratic theory, one is hardly able to challenge its public acceptance. But semiotic analyses harden the question whether these emperors wear nothing but robes. That attitude intensifies where medicine becomes increasingly relevant for legal discourse, as becomes clear where for instance US political viewpoints bring bioethical issues to the Courts. One major theme in today’s medicine pertains to identity in its psychological, philosophical and social dimensions. Identity thus becomes a groundbreaking semiotic issue in law and medicine; both discourses are particular important to the otherness of the other. A US criminal law case interests here (Harrington v. State of Iowa, 2003; cited as: 659N.W.2d 509). The case is decided with “information about what the person has stored in his brain”. A chain of signs is involved: from “brain-function” to “brain-storage” via “brain-scan” to “brain-fingerprint”, for which the case became famous. A long series of signs and meanings belong here to intertwined discourses. Central is a particular sign in each discourse: “brain” means brain scan, and “fingerprint” means law! The two display trading mechanisms, which determine the otherness of the other and the self! The chain of signs in the Harrington case shows inter-disciplinarity in law and inter-discursivity among law and medicine. The trading itself underlines the semiotic dimensions in cyberspace, in particular the semiotics of the virtual (Hayles, Kurzweil) and their effects on legal discourse.