January 20, 2014
On January 22nd I’ll join a handful of Church of the Resurrection folks in Washington D.C. for the annual March for Life. With each passing year a burning in my soul grows brighter and hotter around our call as a church family to create a culture of life, a community that valiantly and joyfully values, protects, and appreciates human life from conception to natural death. As I prepare for this year’s March for Life, I wanted to share the story of one of my new heroes, Dr. Jerome Lejeune, a man who represents what it means to create a culture of life.
In 1958, a young and brilliant medical researcher made a startling discovery—Down syndrome, a genetic disorder that affects about one in 700 babies in the U.S., is caused by the presence of an extra 21st chromosome. Dr. Jerome Lejeune’s discovery and future research would revolutionize the field of genetics. He quickly shot to distinction as a scholar, teacher, and researcher. In 1969, Dr. Lejeune’s work earned him the world’s highest award in genetics—the William Allan Award. Lejeune was destined for fame, greatness, and probably for the Nobel Prize in medicine.
But Lejeune wasn’t just a researcher; he was also a committed Christian who strove to care for children and families impacted by Down syndrome. He was horrified as he gradually realized that his discovery could be used to abort children with trisomy 21. His daughter recounted the day her father came home for lunch, his face ashen white, and told the family, “If I don’t protect [children with Down syndrome], I am nothing.”
He started to champion the rights of born and unborn children with Down syndrome. He called the drive to abort babies with Down syndrome “chromosomal racism.” It was a “rejection of medicine” and “biological brotherhood” that he found “beyond heartbreaking.” After receiving the William Allan Award, he gave a speech to his colleagues which concluded by openly denouncing the practice of abortion—an unpopular position among his peers. In a letter to his wife, Lejeune wrote, “Today, I lost my Nobel prize in Medicine.” His daughter recounts, “He was like a pariah [among his fellow researchers] … but he accepted that because he thought he was doing that which was his duty.”
Dr. Lejeune continued to promote the dignity of every human being from the moment of conception. In the early 1980s, he appeared before a U.S. Senate Judiciary Subcommittee that was holding hearings on this question: “When does human life begin?” Dr. Lejeune referred to our “refined sonar-like imagery” that has succeeded in “producing a movie featuring the youngest star in the world—an 11-week-old baby dancing in utero. The baby plays, so to speak, on a trampoline! He bends his knees, pushes on the wall, soars up and falls down again.”
Lejeune continued his testimony:
At two months of age, the human being is less than one thumb's length from the head to the rump. He would fit at ease in a nutshell, but everything is there: hands, feet, head, organs, brain, all are in place. His heart has been beating for a month already. Looking closely, you would see the palm creases and a fortune teller would read the good adventure of that tiny person. With a good magnifier the fingerprints could be detected. Every documentable human factor is available for a national identity card.
To accept the fact that, after fertilization has taken place, a new human has come into being is no longer a matter of taste or of opinion. The human nature of the human being from conception to old age is not a metaphysical contention. It is plain experimental evidence.