Even as staunch pro-lifers, we often pass up opportunities to spread the gospel of life. Sometimeswe don’t speak up because we feel unprepared, we don’t want to cause conflict with others, or we don’t want to offend close friends and family members.
In 1959, Dr. Jérôme Lejeune, a French geneticist and physician, discovered that the physical and intellectual characteristics of people with Down syndrome was caused by an extra chromosome on chromosome 21.
Before Dr. Lejeune’s discovery, people thought Down syndrome and other genetic disorders were caused by immoral behavior or disease. Children with Down syndrome were shunned and hidden away.
Motivated by his desire to help his patients with Down syndrome and their families, Dr. Lejeune pursued genetic research in hopes of mitigating the symptoms of the condition so that his patients could live fairly normal lives.
In 1969, Lejeune received the William Allan Memorial Award from the American Society of Human Genetics for his work in genetics. At the award ceremony, he agonized over what to say in his speech. This was his moment to instruct his fellow scientists about the dignity of each human person and about the dangers of genetic testing which arose in the years following his discovery.
His fellow doctors started to use prenatal diagnosis of genetic conditions to recommend abortion to expectant mothers whose preborn children had Down syndrome or other genetic conditions. His friends urged him to speak only about the science behind his discoveries which had shocked the scientific world.
But Dr. Lejeune had other plans. Instead, he spoke to the scientific community about when a human being’s life begins—that a human person is present at the very first moment of his creation by God.
After that speech, Dr. Lejeune’s career as a prominent geneticist crumbled. Because of his pro-life beliefs, Dr. Lejeune was ostracized from the scientific community. Offers to speak and teach stopped coming.
Eventually the media stopped asking him to appear as a genetics expert on television and radio because he would only take it as an opportunity to speak in the defense of human embryos as human persons.
His colleagues refused to nominate him for the Nobel Prize, not because his work was sub-par, but because they felt he would use the prize as a political platform.
Toward the end of his life, the good doctor finally received recognition for his work. In 1994, Saint John Paul II appointed Dr. Lejeune as the first president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, an appointment that Lejeune considered the most important of his life. Dr. Lejeune died soon after, on April 3, 1994.
Like Dr. Lejeune, we must have courage to persevere. Preaching the gospel of life requires us to give everything we have in God’s service. That’s why living the gospel of life is so radical and takes so much courage.
If we want to end abortion and violence against preborn children in our nation, we have to do more than just be nominally pro-life.
Teach your students about the life of Dr. Lejeune with our lesson Dr. Jérôme Lejeune and Trisomy 21 available in our online store. This lesson is a must-have for all educators who want to show their students how to respect every person, no matter what his ability. This lesson is perfect to use during October (Down Syndrome Awareness Month) or as an opportunity to learn about the cause of Down syndrome and how to fight against discrimination.
Mary Kizior is a content developer for American Life League’s Culture of Life Studies Program, which stresses the culture of life as an integral part of every academic discipline. CLSP is dedicated to helping students become effective communicators of the pro-life message. Sign up for our e-mail newsletter to see how we can help you foster a culture of life at home and in school.