series event

From patients to consumers: a history of pregnancy testing in Britain

Jesse Olszynko-Gryn 
(Wellcome Trust Fellow)

Today, home pregnancy testing is completely taken for granted. It is implicated in personal decisions and public discourses around all aspects of reproduction, from teen pregnancy and abortion to the biological clock. And yet, only fifty years ago, the majority of women waited not minutes, but months to find out whether they were pregnant. In this presentation I will recover the contested rise of a surprisingly controversial and little-studied industry, from around 1900 to the present day. I will show how the demand for pregnancy testing decisively shifted from doctors to women, first as patient and then as consumers, and work through the core argument of my book-in-progress, which seeks to explain the remarkable transformation of pregnancy testing from a taboo diagnostic service to a commonplace of everyday life.

Along the way, I will attempt to open up a new vista in the history of medicine. Whereas histories of the perennially controversial pharmaceutical industry and prestigious biomedical research lab could fill entire bookshelves, very little is known about the history of routine diagnostic testing. Thus, through the gendered case of pregnancy testing, I will attempt to redirect historical attention towards the diagnostic laboratory, a surprisingly little-studied institution, and the massive, though similarly little-studied global diagnostics industry.