Health Law Expert Craig Konnoth To Join Faculty

Scholar Focuses on Health Concerns of Minority, Marginalized Communities
Craig Konnoth

Craig Konnoth’s health law scholarship looks broadly at minority and marginalized communities, while also focusing specifically on the LGBT community. Photo courtesy University of Colorado

March 10, 2021

Craig Konnoth, an expert in health care law, and law and sexuality, will join the University of Virginia School of Law in the fall.

Konnoth is currently a law professor at the University of Colorado, where he explores issues of health and civil rights, and health data, in his scholarship. His work looks broadly at minority and marginalized communities, while also focusing specifically on the LGBT community.

“The focus is on how social movements use medicine to drive broader legal and policy change,” he said.

Dean Risa Goluboff said Konnoth’s research homes in on the moment in which we live.

“Craig’s scholarship on health equity is both perennially important and more important now than ever,” Goluboff said. “Craig is working at the cutting edge of a cutting-edge field. He is already having an impact on the way we think about health and health care, and about the relationship between law and medicine. I know that both our faculty and our students are going to learn so much from him and enjoy the discussions we will all have around his work.”

Traditionally, the thinking has been that laws are set in place and the field of medicine must abide by them, he said. But this approach “behaves as if medicine doesn’t have its own normative logic. This logic can be [and has been] deployed to oppress and discipline minorities, for example, forcing the sterilizations of women of color in the U.S.”

However, social pressure can change the norms of medicine, which can then change the law, he explained. “My position is that medicine is what we make of it.”

Konnoth was the guest editor earlier this year for a symposium on race and health law for the Petrie Flom Center at Harvard Law School, and presented his work on minorities and medicine at a joint session hosted by Harvard Law and Medical Schools which focused on the issues arising from medical oppression.

His most recently published article, “Medicalization and the New Civil Rights,” appeared last year in the Stanford Law Review. The piece aims to “define and defend” the concept of “medical civil rights,” in which individuals have advanced civil rights claims that rely on the language of medicine. An example, he said, is states that apply Medicaid funds to help solve homelessness, by linking homelessness to medical outcomes. Konnoth believes that authorities should track the effects on social and economic outcomes on health with the same level of interest as we pharmaceutical outcomes, thus looking at the entire health and well-being of subgroups and individuals.

Activism around gender dysphoria — distress caused from not identifying with one’s sex assigned at birth — is another area of medical rights activism, and is among the issues that Konnoth teaches and writes about. With children, the legal struggle is often one that sometimes pits the preferences of parents or doctors against a child’s lack of agency and the need to thrive as an individual.

Konnoth co-authored the article “Ethical Issues in Gender Affirming Care” in the journal Pediatrics in 2018. The article recommends creating a registry that can track outcomes of treatment options for children with gender dysphoria in order to point to the best solutions for their care. He also is interested in whether gender dysphoria should be covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act and whether sex-change operations should be allowed as a medical expense write-off under the tax code.

In addition to health and civil rights, Konnoth also specializes in health data regulation. His 2017 paper, “Health Information Equity,” appeared in the University of Pennsylvania Law Review, and received the 2018 Privacy Papers for Policy Makers Award. In accepting the award, Konnoth was invited to address policymakers in the United States Senate Building. His most recent work on health data regulation examines issues of federalism and privatization in health data regulation, and will appear in the Boston University Law Review. Another article develops a broader theory of federalism and privatization and will appear in the Harvard Law Review.

In addition to his teaching and writing interests, Konnoth is the inaugural faculty director of the Health Data and Technology Initiative at the Silicon Flatirons Center at Colorado. In that capacity, he has convened conferences and panels with senior policymakers, academics, medical practitioners and activists that examine the role of data regulation, including, last year, panels that focused on data regulation in the COVID-19 pandemic.

Professor Margaret Foster Riley, whose scholarship focuses on health law and bioethics, among other topics, joined the dean and her fellow faculty members in welcoming Konnoth.  

“We are extremely excited to have Craig Konnoth join our faculty,” Riley said. “His work in health law, bioethics and privacy spans many of the most urgent issues we are facing today. His recent scholarship in medical civil rights, which focuses on gender and sexuality and race, offers new ideas and solutions to address the continuing health disparities brought into even starker relief by the current COVID crisis.”

Konnoth also runs the Health Law Certificate Program at Colorado. The program was started by UVA Law alumna Dayna Bowen Matthew ’87, who was responsible for a number of health law initiatives at the university before coming to teach at UVA. She is now dean of George Washington University Law School.

Prior to joining Colorado, Konnoth was a deputy solicitor general with the California Department of Justice, where his docket primarily involved cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, and also before the California Supreme Court and the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

He held fellowships at the UCLA Law School’s Williams Institute before clerking, and more recently, at the University of Pennsylvania Law School and New York University Medical School.

He earned his J.D. from Yale Law School and an M.Phil. from the University of Cambridge. He clerked for Judge Margaret McKeown of the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

In law school, Konnoth helped coordinate an effort to reach out to LGBT law students in need of support through the National LGBT Bar Association Student Division — a “first,” he said, to unify law school student LGBT groups across the country under one umbrella. He said the effort also helped students at smaller schools, especially in the South, feel less alone.

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