Björkman is a researcher at the Department of History of Science and Ideas at Uppsala University. In 2011, she defended her PhD in history of medicine on the dissemination and implementation of eugenic ideas in Sweden from the early 1900s to the 1960s. Since then, she has examined the emergence of genetic counseling in Sweden, researched Swedish German-friendly physicians and scholars between the years 1933-45, as well as explored aspects of 1920s urology in relation to masculinity and sexuality.
Exposing the fetus: The thalidomide scandal and its effects
This subproject examines the importance and implications of the so-called thalidomide scandal in the early 1960s when children to mothers who had taken the sleeping pill with the name thalidomide (in Swedish: “neurosedyn”) were born with malformed limbs. It focuses on the media reporting on this incident as well as the debates that motivated the establishment of a national register for malformations at the Tornblad Institute of Lund University, and how these events produced different meanings and views of fetal research and fetal objects. For researchers and others the scandal demonstrated the need for further investigations on human fetal material to determine if drugs were safe before they were distributed to pregnant women. Yet, for the parents of the “thalidomide children” who started to organise themselves into a disability movement, this strand of research posed a threat to the values and rights of disabled people.
Publications and presentations:
• ”Defining, valuing, and negotiating fetuses and infants: Examples from the Swedish thalidomide case”, paper presentation, History of Science, Technology and Medicine Network Annual Conference, Queen’s University, Belfast, October 26–27, 2018.
• ”The Janus face of social engineering: Examples from the Swedish thalidomide case”, paper presentation, Valuations of life: Birth defects, prenatal diagnosis, and disability, Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden, September 25–26, 2018.
WORKSHOPS AND CONFERENCES ORGANIZED
• Valuations of life: Birth defects, prenatal diagnosis, and disability. An international workshop at Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden, September 25–26, 2018, co-organized with Annika Berg and Helena Franzén. Read more