Did you know that the father of modern genetics was a Catholic who spoke out against scientists for using abortion?
As the tragic subject of abortion has been much in the news lately, we deemed it appropriate to republish this piece first offered on this site in September 2013.
The life of Professor Jerome Lejeune (1926-1994) is worth knowing, and his battle with the culture of death promoted by leading scientists of the American world is an example of how a Catholic ought to behave, even in the midst of defeat.
Prof. Lejeune is the founder of modern genetics, the discoverer of the trisomy. On October 3, 1969, he was invited to receive at San Francisco the most prestigious award of genetics, the William Allan prize.
And why was he offered this reward? Because his work enabled the successful testing which could detect trisomy 21 (Down Syndrome) in mothers’ womb—thus in the United States, these tests (amongst others already in use) were used to prevent the birth of such diagnosed babies.
This is how Prof. Lejeune was rewarded and discovered to his dismay that the world was falling from under his feet, not only figuratively, but even literally during the presentation. For coincidentally, one of San Francisco’s famous seismic quakes shook the whole conference room causing him to reflect: “At this moment, I understood that the world had revolved on its axis.”
So what were those rewarding him implying? That his research would be applied to exterminate children in their mother’s womb because they could not be like other children who were “normal” or “productive members of society,” hence “you are not like me, so die!” Such an attitude should be referred to as “chromosomic racism.”
What is this “brave new world” in which in order to live, one will have to obey certain norms, be blond, possess a higher IQ, be more political, and be more this or that—and who will have to experience these norms? But in point of fact, we should remember that such norms have been tried before—and not so long ago.
Prof. Lejeune often recalled to his students the true story told him by an Austrian colleague.
My father was a doctor in a small Austrian village, and in April 1889, he was asked to deliver to two children: one was a healthy boy, and the other a poor little child. She was trisomic. My father followed closely these two children. The little girl had a rather sad life. One day her mother grew sick when she was only 16 or 17. And although she had a very week intellectual quota, she was by the side of her mother for four years, and softened the end of her mother’s life. Then she was placed in a nursing home. This was a rather sad life. Strange enough, my father does not recall the name of the girl, but he remembers very well that of the little boy. This child had a brilliant destiny and reached the summit. Oh, yes, he is somewhat forgotten, his name was Adolph Hitler."
Who can decide that one life can be lived rather than another? Who can pretend to judge such things? Behold the professor in that conference hall understands that there is being set a diabolical order. There are two options:[though in reality there is only one] either a) he plays the dummy and keeps quiet, or b) he takes the prize, leaves the place and life goes on as ever—as if nothing happened at all!
So does Prof. Lejeune—a doctor and internationally-respected professor (in fact he may even be nominated for the Noble Peace Prize next year or later) says nothing to ensure that his career continues in the same elevating fashion? Or—and this is what he actually does—he open his mouth to explain that what they are doing is monstrous!
He tells them in words they can understand. He will not speak to them about the Christian moral order, or of the Oath of Hippocrates. Why should he speak of this oath to the these learned Americans, who dropped it long ago? He could tell them that his Christian heart is bleeding, but then they would tell him to keep his religious sentiment to himself and let them freely think as they wish. No! He is going to speak their own language, and they will never pardon him.
You know as well as me, and any student in genetics knows this, that, at the very moment of its conception, every creature carries within itself its chromosomic message, and nothing can change it. This will make a man be neither a monkey, or a duck, because you cannot confuse them as nothing can be added or subtracted to them. Thus, do not tell me, when you request to suppress these children, that you are not suppressing a human being because it is already a human being and nothing will change anything: he needs only to grow if he is allowed to. No! You are suppressing a human being who is not according to your norms, but do not deny it its human nature, which you allow to be quietly assassinated."
He knew that for this statement he would not pardoned. At that moment he knew he had just sacrificed his career and would never again be the international oracle of genetics.
Moreover, he was also aware that what he had said would strictly-speaking accomplish nothing, for he is profoundly convinced that from the onset he has been forced into a lost battle. Nonetheless, he will sacrifice his career for this struggle, because he believes that a better future is around the corner.
Firstly, because humanly speaking Prof. Lejeune is optimistic, as he hopes to find the remedy for babies afflicted with Down Syndrome—thus in a few years’ time, there will no longer exist any excuse to terminate their lives since they will be curable.
Secondly, supernaturally that the grace of a conversion he received a few years previous was intended to prepare him for a battle which infinitely surpassed him—the basic struggle of good and evil, resulting in the conscious choice between the city of God and the city of the devil, whatever the immediate circumstances might be.
Therefore at this precise moment, he has chosen to say to his American colleagues (presently beaming, but shortly to be enraged at him):
Yes, decide to apply what you have decided to. Kill these children you wish to kill, but do not say that they are not children.
But watch out, watch out for playing the Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Oh! I am not warning you against God’s anger, who is full of mercy. But I am warning you against nature, because nature is neither God nor a person, and when one tramples its laws, she punishes and punishes without pity.
Someday you will pay for what you are presently doing, but do not say that you have not been warned!"
No applause follows. Instead, in a dead silence the rewarded professor descends from the podium and goes into the crowd gathered to congratulate him but which shirks away from him as if he were a leper, refusing to shake his hand.
SOURCE: audio conference: Le professeur Jerome Lejeune raconte par Anne Bernet [YouTube]
NB: For more on Prof. Lejeune, see LejeuneUSA.org devoted to the legacy of his work.
1 For more information about genetics, cf. “Genetics Made Easy”; The Angelus, March 2001.
2 Though a pagan Greek without knowledge of the Faith, nonetheless he stipulated that the primary duty of a doctor is not to harm those under his care; and thus, when this was popular practice amongst medical practitioners in his time, he would not administer either poisons or abortifacients to his patients.