My name is Dr. Christine Chisholm.
Medicine, Disability, Rehabilitation, Women, Gender, Sexuality
Description of Research
In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the drug thalidomide was prescribed to pregnant women around the world as a sedative to combat morning sickness. Instead of being “completely safe,” as advertisements had promised, thalidomide caused “deformities” in children born to mothers who took the drug. In Canada thalidomide was licensed for prescription use on April 1, 1961 and remained on the market until the spring of 1962, despite knowledge of the possible connection between the medication and birth defects in newborns. This dissertation focuses on thalidomers’ lives after the scandal. It argues that in Canada, thalidomiders’ experiences in the aftermath of the tragedy demonstrate that their disabled bodies remained political and public bodies, even in the most intimate and private aspects of their lives. Drawing on disability history and medical history, this dissertation extends the approach of patient histories to include thalidomiders’ social lives and disability as a lived experience. Because disability is always political, this case study of thalidomiders in Canada builds on the feminist critique of a public/private dichotomy and suggests that people living with disabilities do not simply blur but always transgress the public/private divide. Through an examination of rehabilitation, school, families, sexuality and reproduction, this dissertation demonstrates that thalidomiders’ lives were political as they, both inadvertently and intentionally, confronted notions of normality and engendered the limits of socially-prescribed norms. In addition, their very existence challenged ideas of humanness and belonging, and their lives were defined by their conscious and subconscious resistance to notions of abject bodies. Canadian thalidomiders have challenged the cultural importance of physical “normality” in Canada through everyday performances, and counteracted deep-seated fears of difference and “the abnormal” through their presence in communities. This dissertation is the first study to use oral history methodology to bring the voices of Canadian thalidomiders to the attention of scholars.