Jerome Lejeune (1926-1994)
“Defend the scientific truth and the great moral truth that follows: here is my mission”.
Jerome Lejeune is the French geneticist who discovered in 1958, at the age of thirty-two years, during the examination of the chromosomes of a child called “Mongolian” (Down syndrome), the existence of a chromosome in too much on the 21st pair. For the first time in the history of medicine there was a link between mental retardation and chromosomal abnormality.
Professor Lejeune, one of the most admired geneticists of the twentieth century, became in the 1970s the moral leader of the movement for life in Europe. He fiercely defended the dignity of the human person at a time when parliaments and courts were usurping the divine right to decide who among the innocent should live or die.
For Jerome Lejeune, the legalization of abortion has not simply been a frontal attack on the natural moral law, but also an odious expression of contempt for science. Modern genetics demonstrates that, just when the egg is fertilized by sperm, all the genetic information that defines the new individual is written in its entirety in the first cell. No other genetic data enters the egg after its initial fertilization. Thus, science asserts that a human being would not be a human being if he had not originally been conceived of as a human being. Laws legalizing abortion are based on the idea that the embryo is not a human life, but that it becomes later, an idea that is totally wrong from a scientific point of view.
For Jerome Lejeune, scientific truth is something that should not be withheld from the public. “If a law is so ill-founded as to declare that the human embryo is not a human being, and that her Majesty the Queen of England was only a chimpanzee during the first fourteen days of her life, is not a law, but a manipulation of opinion. Nobody is obliged to accept science. You can say, “Well, we prefer to be ignorant, we absolutely refuse any scientific discovery.” That’s a point of view. I would say, it’s a “politically correct” point of view in some countries, but it’s an obscurantist point of view, and science abhors obscurantism.”
In 1981 Lejeune testifies before the American Congress. In 1982, he was elected to the Academy of Moral and Political Sciences. In 1994 he became the first president of the Pontifical Academy for Life created by John Paul II the same year.
In the current context of moral relativism and intellectual skepticism so dominant in European culture, the cause of Jerome Lejeune appeared doomed from the start. But, as his daughter Сlara points out,”his realism was inspired by a tremendous hope.”
Professor Jerome Lejeune is a remarkable example of courage in the fight for life. With the discovery of the genetic origin of Down Syndrome, he became world famous and was nominated for the Nobel Prize. Her discovery gave the hope of being able to cure one day the handicap for which this trisomy was responsible, and it opened new paths in the field little explored and unknown genetics. Dismayed by the growing UN membership in an ideological program opposed to life, he challenged the international community: “Life is a fact, not a desire … Here we see a health institution that is transforming itself in an institution of death. Having said the truth without compromise, he told his wife, “This afternoon, I lost my Nobel Prize.
To defend the scientific truth and the great moral truth that ensued from it, Jerome Lejeune had to resist the spirit of the times, in particular the revolutionary spirit of May 1968. The atmosphere in which he found himself quickly became unhealthy. Messages in big black letters appeared on the walls of the Faculty of Medicine: “Tremble Lejeune! The revolutionary student movement is watching you! Lejeune is a murderer! Kill Lejeune! Lejeune and her little monsters [that is, the children who are victims of Down Syndrome] must die! “. Pr. Lejeune was assailed verbally and physically. He was no longer receiving invitations to international conferences on genetics. Funding for his research was canceled. He was forced to close his lab and fire his research team. He, who, at the age of thirty-eight, had become the youngest professor of medicine in France and held the first chair in fundamental genetics, found himself overnight without funding, without collaborators, without an office. Abandoned by his friends and crucified by the press, reduced to the condition of pariah, he accepted this state of fact with the serenity and joy of not having yielded for a moment to the devilish shrieks of the crowd. He died on Easter Monday, 1994, after a brief agony that began on Holy Week’s Wednesday.
Lejeune inspired during his life many people, including King Baudouin. When in 1989 the Belgian parliament was preparing to vote on the law on abortion, King Baudouin called in consultation Jerome Lejeune to enlighten him on the decision to take. The king did not sign this law.
Young people inspire, today more than ever, men and women of good will: those who are not indifferent to the moral and scientific truth. A human being is a human being since conception. He has never been and will never be a chimpanzee. Young, like all leaders, is deeply conscious of the dignity of the human person.