Dr. Jerome Lejeune: physician of principle
March 15, 2013 (Unmaskingchoice.ca) - “I know there are babies, there are human beings in the fridge, this is the only thing I know.” This was how Dr. Jerome Lejeune, a French geneticist, explained his presence as an expert witness in a Tennessee court in 1989. He admitted he paid little attention to the news, but he had been called to testify in order to save human lives, and so he went.
In 1958, Dr. Lejeune was a young medical researcher passionate about improving human lives. He had a particular interest in the cause and treatment of Down Syndrome, then referred to as mongolism. The condition was poorly understood and met with a fair degree of prejudice at that time. Dr. Lejeune was the first to discover that Down Syndrome is caused by the presence of an extra 21st chromosome, and was immediately hopeful that with increased understanding, the health and well-being of those affected by Down Syndrome could be improved.
He went on to discover several other diseases caused by chromosomal abnormalities, and was regarded with great respect in the field of genetics, receiving several prestigious awards, including the William Allen Award—the highest honour in genetics.
Lejeune held firmly to his Hippocratic Oath to “do no harm.” The debate over abortion began to heat up, and he placed himself squarely against it. As a scientist he knew that the pre-born were human. As a doctor and as a man, he would not support the killing of these tiny, innocent human beings. This was an unpopular position to take in French academia, however. In her biography of her father, Lejeune’s daughter Clara writes, after describing the esteem her father initially had in his field, “here is a man who, because his convictions as a physician prohibited him from following the trends of the time, was banned from society, dropped by his friends, crucified by the press, prevented from working for lack of funding.”
And yet as the 1970s continued, and for the rest of his life, Dr. Lejeune continued to speak publicly for the rights of all human beings. He was involved in the founding of a house for pregnant mothers in Paris and very active in the pro-life movement in France. He was, with time, able to continue his research due to private donations. Always, he was working for the good of his fellow people.
His convictions and his willingness to defend human life so articulately and so publicly led him around the world. In 1982, he testified in front of the United States senate as they debated a bill on when human life begins. In 1989 he was called as an expert witness in a Tennessee divorce court. The couple in question has seven embryos frozen from in vitro fertilization. The questions: was this a question of division of property, or of custody of children? He told the court,
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“…if I understand well the present case and if I can say a word as geneticist, I would say: An early human being inside this suspended time which is the can cannot be the property of anybody because it's the only one in the world to have the property of building himself. And I would say that science has a very simple conception of man; as soon as he has been conceived, a man is a man.”
Lejeune was deeply disappointed to see that prenatal testing for Down Syndrome was being used not to improve the lives of those affected, but to end them. “They brandish chromosomal racism like the flag of freedom…. That this rejection of medicine—of the whole biological brotherhood that binds the human family—should be the only practical application of our knowledge is beyond heartbreaking….” This continues today—Canadian statistics are not published, but in the United States around 90% of children diagnosed before birth with Down Syndrome are aborted. Imagine seeing your research, which you hoped would bring hope for improved health and wellness, used instead to kill.
Lejeune’s daughter Clara writes,
"How he had to love them, his patients, in order to explain them to everyone and to defend them against all who questioned their right to life…. He himself knew very well that all life, even life that seems diminished in the eyes of the world, is worth the trouble of living. That treasures of love can be read in the eyes of an afflicted child when one dares to love him."
As we look on this man’s example of selfless love, we must ask ourselves: what good is keeping my reputation, my career, my esteem in the eyes of others, at the expense of human lives? We live in a culture where medical advances like prenatal testing and ultrasounds are being used to facilitate killing instead of healing. We live in a country where hundreds of children are killed by doctors every day. We need to care more about our fellow human beings than about our reputations. Like Dr. Lejeune, we need to persist in reminding the world that humans are humans and deserve human rights.
Reprinted with permission from Unmaskingchoice.ca.