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. Her current work involves research in three different projects: one on the emergence of genetic counselling in Sweden between 1950 and 1980 and links to earlier eugenic practices; another on Swedish intellectual contacts with the “new” Germany between 1933–1945 by some Swedish physicians and scientists; and the third, how new understandings of the prostate organ, as well as new prostate surgery techniques affected views on masculinity and sexuality in the 1920s.
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.
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