Larocque, C., Foth, T.
Which lives are worth saving? Biolegitimacy and harm reduction during COVID-19
(2021) Nursing Inquiry
Despite the promise to save every life, the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed social and racial inequalities, precarious living conditions, and engendered an exponential increase in overdose deaths. Although some lives are considered sacred, others are deliberately sacrificed. This article draws on the theoretical work of Foucault and scholars who further developed his concept of biopolitics. While biopolitics aims to ameliorate the health of populations, Foucault never systematically accounted for the unequal value of lives. In the name of saving the biological lives of people who use drugs (PWUD) during the pandemic, the harm reduction movement has emphasized the need for safe supply, decriminalization, and housing; governments have started implementing these measures, which were previously rejected as utopian and unrealistic. Paradoxically, the use of drugs itself, and therefore the increased risk of death from overdose or other medical sequelae, is the only way PWUD can achieve enough visibility to be recognized as a life worth saving. The humanitarian rationale of harm reduction concerns itself with the biological life and stipulates social and political rights in the name of its sacredness. This is what anthropologist Fassin and others called biolegitimacy—the recognition of life reduced to its physiological, biological essence. © 2021 John Wiley & Sons Ltd
anthropology; COVID-19; discourse; foucault; governmentality; harm reduction; politics