What's your question?
Q. Some time ago, in one of your columns, you referred to a French geneticist who was a leading champion of reverence for life in the face of widespread abortion. I think he once addressed the United Nations on abortion. Do you recall who he was and how I could read up on him?
A: Yes; the scientist about whom the questioner is asking here is undoubtedly Professor Jérôme Lejeune, who died in April 1994. Probably the most respected geneticist in the world, he discovered the nature and origin of several diseases linked to genetic factors, including Downs Syndrome (Trisomy 21). But his greatest contribution to the world was his defense of every human life in the context of the culture of death associated with direct abortion.
I was privileged to hear him lecture at the Vatican during a conference on moral theology in November 1998. Moreover, I was to meet with him, together with Nobel Laureate Dr. Joseph E. Murray, of Harvard Medical School, during the Spring of 1994. In the interim, Dr. Lejeune had died. (Dr. Murray had shared the Nobel award in 1990 with another physician for the first successful human kidney transplant.)
Professor Lejeune had suffered substantially from his adamant stand in defense of human life. After speaking during a debate at an international conference on health sponsored by the United Nations Organization in New York, he excoriated pro-abortionists with, “Here we see an institute of health that is turning itself into an institute of death.” That evening, recalled his daughter Clara in her biography of him, Dr. Jérôme wrote his wife, “This evening I lost my Nobel Prize.” (Life is a Blessing; San Francisco: Ignatius, 2000)
In her biography Clara also documents that her father was literally hated simply for telling the truth about the infant in the womb. She recalls that as a teenager she even saw graffiti on the wall of Paris’s Medical School with exclamations such as “Lejeune is an assassin. Kill Lejeune!” and “Lejeune and his little monsters must die.” (The tyranny of the ignorant?) Once, she wrote, during a debate, “it was impossible for him to take the floor. The audience was yelling, and he was hit in the face with raw calves’ livers and tomatoes…”
Among other indignities, Dr. Lejeune was unjustly humiliated by tax regulations, “political correctness,” all kinds of “investigations,” even overt acts of vandalism (e.g., slashing the tires on his car).
When Pope John Paul II visited France for the last time, I recall reading, the Pope stopped to pray silently at Professor Lejeune’s grave as he was driven from the airport. This simple reverent gesture by the Holy Father incited a flurry of fresh venomous attacks upon the famed geneticist, as well as a new Satanic cry by the secular media for abortion “rights.”
It was St. Pope John Paul who appointed Dr. Lejeune first President of the Pontifical Academy of Life, a post he held but 33 days. (Which occasioned the geneticist’s remark, “I’m dying while on special duty.”) It was he who conceived and structured the Pontifical Academy of Life. “We want to thank God today,” declared Pope John Paul, “…for everything that Professor Jejeune has been for us, for everything that he did to defend and to promote the dignity of human life…”
Without question we need more great men and women like Jérôme Lejeune. Editor Philip Lawler has correctly described him as “one of the greatest Catholic men of the 20th century.”