There are few issues in contemporary biomedicine that stir up as much debate as the uses of human embryos and fetuses for research and therapeutics. Most recently debates have centered on the research involving stem cells derived from days-old human embryos created for fertility treatment. According to its proponents this research holds immense promise for treatment of diseases ranging from diabetes to Parkinson’s. Opponents charge that such research threatens fundamental moral and ethical values of human life. However, the controversies surrounding the uses of embryos and fetuses for scientific research and knowledge production are not a new phenomenon. The primary purpose of this research program is to explore the social and cultural history of human fetal research in Sweden. It focuses on the emergence of human fetuses as objects of scientific inquiry and their circulation through many areas of society from the seventeenth century to the late twentieth century, with an emphasis on the Swedish post-war period. The major research questions concern how, when, why and with what consequences fetal research in Sweden developed and became ethically contested.
Theoretically, the aim is to nuance current models on “biopolitics” and “biomedicalization” by showing how national and local contexts have affected the nature and status of global biomedicine. In addition, the program strives to develop theoretical tools to analyze the historical co-production of changing moral landscapes and conflicting notions of fetal objects.
The research includes several subprojects and draws upon many kinds of empirical sources: material, written, visual, audiovisual, and oral. Depending on the aims of the individual research, various approaches may be relevant, including methodologies from the history of medicine, history of science, science and technology studies, media history, visual studies, gender studies, disability studies, and postcolonial studies.
The second purpose of the program is to strengthen and develop Swedish research in the history of medicine and biomedicine more generally, both nationally and internationally. Presently there exists broad expertise in this field but it has not developed into a proper discipline in Sweden. An important aim is to make the Department of the History of Science and Ideas at Uppsala University an institutional platform for Swedish history of medicine. This includes establishing collaboration with the faculty of medicine at Uppsala University, the Unit for Medical History and Heritage and the Hagströmer Medico-Historical Library at Karolinska Institutet as well as other institutions within the field.
To further these goals the research team is comprised of researchers that represent different disciplines and career positions, including PhDs and postdoctoral researchers. Planned outputs include peer-reviewed articles, monographs, an edited volume, and the organization of a series of national and international workshops and conferences.
All together, the program will substantially contribute to our knowledge of the history of reproduction, reproductive research and biomedicine as well as providing a vital basis for political discussion and public debate. It will also be a historical resource to the evolving field of medical humanities.
The program is funded by the The Swedish Research Council Distinguished Young Researcher Grant.
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