This profile of Dr. Jerome Lejeune and his fearless advocacy for those with Down syndrome is republished from Deus Caritas Est Magazine, the magazine of the Brothers of Charity worldwide.
On 21 January, Pope Francis acknowledged the heroic virtues of Jérôme Lejeune, whom we henceforth refer to as Venerable. He was already a heroic man when this scientist, who discovered that Down syndrome was due to an abnormality in the chromosomes, as a result of which is became known as trisomy 21, radically took up the defense of these children’s lives.
It was after this discovery, and its recognition in 1959, that he found that very quickly there were those who considered it logical to resort to abortion when this abnormality was found during prenatal testing. It was a lonely battle in which he placed his further scientific research entirely in the light of the possible discovery of how this defect could be corrected, while at the same time radically opposing all tendencies that questioned the right to life of these children.
It proved to be a losing battle, and he realized that in doing so, he lost the possibility of receiving the Nobel Prize for his discovery. But protecting the lives of these children was worth more to him than the much-coveted Nobel Prize.
In the turbulent 1960s, he became an advocate for these children who could not stand up for their own rights, and a lonely prophet in an environment that was only interested in the newly acquired absolute freedom and the ensuing equally absolute self-determination. There were times when he was literally pelted by an angry mob loudly chanting “Boss of your own belly”. But Jérôme Lejeune stood his ground and did not let himself be intimidated by these modernists. He regretted that he found little audience with the French episcopate of that time, who apparently kept silent out of fear, which we still see with some today. Fortunately, there was Pope John Paul II, who was greatly inspired by Jérôme Lejeune’s heroism and who, with the preparation of his encyclical Evangelium Vitae, really encouraged this learned professor, who became his friend. In 1994, the Pope appointed him as the first president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, which he founded, but only a few months later, Lejeune died of cancer. When Pope John Paul II visited Paris years later, he prayed at Lejeune’s grave.
The now Venerable Jérôme Lejeune, MD, PhD may truly be considered a prophet for our time, when absolute respect for all life, from conception to its natural end, is in dire straits. Even in Christian circles, people do not hesitate to make unholy compromises on this issue and, under the banner of so-called compassion and a totally erroneous interpretation of respect for personal freedom, they pursue a policy of tolerance towards abortion and euthanasia.
Do we, as Christians, still sufficiently realize that every offense against the life of another person, even if this person is not yet born, is an offense against the very image of God present in every human being? In the words of Pope Francis: “We are killing Jesus Christ himself again when we take the life of a neighbor through abortion or euthanasia.”
We need people like Jérôme Lejeune today, who, with clear arguments, scientifically backed and from a grounded reality, take up the cause of life and continue to do so, and do not allow themselves to get carried away by social trends that are literally a dead end. These people will have to know that it will not be easy for them, but again, they can take a leaf out of Jérôme Lejeune’s book, who did not avoid any obstacles, but saw every bit of resistance as a new challenge to articulate his vision with even more clarity. Hopefully, soon they will be able to call on his intercession in their fight against the constantly growing culture of death. The only answer is a new culture of life!
Bro. René Stockman