The name Jerome Lejeune may not be familiar to most Catholics or even to most pro-life activists. So why is the annual Bishops’ Pro-Life Conference featuring a tribute to him at the opening banquet on Friday, October 30?
Professor Lejeune was a world-renowned French geneticist who is considered by some to be the father of modern genetics. In 1958, Lejeune discovered that an extra 21st chromosome is responsible for Down syndrome, or Trisomy 21.
Sometime after this discovery, Lejeune became concerned that this new discovery would lead to the aborting of Down syndrome children. He subsequently dedicated his life to defending the unborn, especially those with Down syndrome, testifying before scientific conferences and lawmakers.
One of his more famous testimonies was in a 1989 Tennessee County Court case in which a divorced couple was litigating over the custody of seven cryogenically frozen embryos. His testimony (available by searching online) laid out with stunning genetic precision the process of human life’s beginning, summarized with these words:
“I would say that life has a very long history, but each of us has a unique beginning, the moment of conception… As soon as the twenty-three chromosomes carried by the sperm encounter the twenty-three chromosomes carried by the ovum, the whole information necessary and sufficient to spell out all the characteristics of the new being is gathered.”
His outspokenness in defending the unborn caused him to be ostracized in the scientific community and may have cost him a Nobel Prize. But it got the attention of Pope St. John Paul II who appointed Lejeune as the first President of the Pontifical Academy for Life. Dr. Lejeune died a short time later in 1994. A cause for his canonization was opened in 2007.
Aude Dugast, postulator of the cause, told Catholic News Agency (March 18 2014) that Lejeune’s life and work is a witness for doctors and researchers, and shows there “is no contradiction between the deeds of doctors and the deeds of Catholics.” Many of those involved in science and research “put their faith on one side, and their jobs on the other, and the two don’t go together.” But Lejeune showed that “faith and reason are not opposed, but complementary,” Dugast said.
The tribute to Dr. Lejeune will be given by Dr. Pilar Calva who was an under-study to Dr. Lejeune. Since 1984, Dr. Calva has been a professor of genetics, bioethics and medical ethics at Universidad Anahuac Medical School in Mexico. She was a member of the Pontifical Academy for Life for ten years from 2002-2012.
“When I arrived in France,” Dr. Calva says in her bio, “I lived a life divided between faith and reason. I thought that from Monday to Saturday, I put on my white coat for my scientific tasks, and Sunday was the day I took off the white coat, put on my crucifix and dedicated myself to my religious duties. Professor Lejeune truly converted me, making me see that one can wear the white coat and the cross, at the same time. That is, one can fly with the wing of faith and the wing of reason.”
In addition to Dr. Calva’s tribute, an inspiring new video about the life of Dr. Lejeune will be shown at the banquet.
The Pro Life Conference continues on Saturday, October 31 with the following timely topics and outstanding speakers: “Is Doctor-Prescribed Suicide Gaining Momentum?” by Rita Marker; “The Death Penalty and Catholic Teaching” by Omar Gutierrez; “The Miraculous Process of Human Life’s Beginning” by Dr. Pilar Calva; “Marriage: What the Court Said, What Catholics Should Say” by Sheri Rickert and William May; and “Take Courage, I Have Overcome the World” by Father Hugh Cleary.
This conference is a great opportunity to join with our Bishops and hundreds of other pro-life individuals in celebrating the dignity of human life. It is an opportunity for learning, inspiration and rejuvenation for our pro-life efforts moving forward. More information and registration is available online at www.necatholic.org.
Posted on Sun, October 18, 2015
by Marge Buescher