“Book Pick” recounts the legacy of a candid and relentless advocate of human life in the womb.
A man of knowledge and conscience
By Odd Dugast
Ignatius Press, 2021
398 pages, $19.95
Translated by Michael J. Miller, from the 2019 French edition Jerome Legon: Freedom of the World
to request: EWTNRC.com
French geneticist and physician Jerome Legon (1926-1994) is famous for two areas of humankind that are often at odds with one another, science and religious belief.
As a scientist, early genetics Dr. Legon worked to establish the causal relationship between radiation and genetic damage. Later, in his laboratory in Paris, Lejeune developed an innovative process for staining and imaging chromosomes. This methodology quickly led to the work he is best known for in medicine: in 1959, he and his laboratory investigators announced that they had discovered the cause of Down syndrome, the extra 21st chromosome. For these and other important contributions to science and medicine, Lijon is sometimes called the “father of modern genetics”.
But not only did Lejeune conduct groundbreaking scientific research; He also maintained a busy clinical practice, particularly caring for children with trisomy 21.
This is where his religious faith shined, because unlike many medical professionals and certainly culture in general, Lejeune regarded children with Down syndrome as beautiful, full of inherent dignity and of unlimited value as children of God.
Lejon said: “These children have been injured in their wits and marks in their bodies [are] Deprived of science.” Lejeune devoted all his scientific efforts to discovering an effective cure. The reason he worked so hard to discover the cause was that he hoped it would open the door to finding a cure:
“We have made this discovery to my patients and I thank them. … In fact, I am almost ashamed of the little celebs surrounding a discovery that leads us to no cure. Something must be done!”
But as Lejeune and his lab colleagues were discovering the cause of Down syndrome and other genetic diseases, another medical innovation became popular: amniocentesis, the process of using a needle and syringe to obtain a sample of amniotic fluid. The procedure was originally developed to assess the health of the unborn child and to initiate treatment if necessary.
Predictably, death-culture agents were quick to corrupt this life-saving technology for nefarious purposes: prenatal diagnosis of trisomy 21 followed by elective abortion of the affected child. (Recent studies have shown that such prenatal tests are fundamentally wrong.)
Legon was horrified:
“Chromosomal racism is being waved as freedom science: they will kill homosexuals in the womb because they can recognize homosexuality.” [chromosomes] By simple amniotic sample. The fact that this deprivation of all drugs, and of all the biological fraternity that unites humans, should be the only current practical application of knowledge about trisomy 21 is more than sad.”
In response, Lejeune embarked on a minor career as an advocate for the sanctity of life.
His frankness, relentless defense of human life in the womb, and his crusades against permitted abortion laws were detrimental to his scholarly career. He was often forced to scramble to secure funding for his research when official channels refused to support his work, and he was sometimes “banned” from attending conferences. The worst contempt was his multiple nominations for the Nobel Prize – which he deserved in abundance – but he always skipped it.
This book is a compendium of many years of study, research, and journalistic investigation by the author, Aude Dugast, into Lejeune’s upbringing, career, extensive pro-life work, and devout Catholic personal life. The level of detail you weave into the narration is almost overwhelming at times. Also, sensitive readers may be concerned by the outdated “Mongolian,” which was the common term for trisomy 21 during Lejeune’s early years in his career, before the diagnosis was widely referred to as Down syndrome. Nevertheless, this is a fascinating biography of one of the greatest scholars and pro-life crusaders of the twentieth century, who was touchingly described by Father Robert Spitzer as “a man of the world within a man of faith … a modern man for all seasons.”
In a papal entitlement decree issued by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints on January 21, 2021, Jerome Legion was given the title “Reverend,” given when a person’s heroic virtue is recognized on the path of sanctification.
Reverend Jerome Legon, pray for us!
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