On this date, 1959: Dr. Jerome Lejeune publishes work linking Trisomy 21 to Down’s Syndrome

Dr. Lejeune (photo from Fondation Jérôme Lejeune)
Dr. Lejeune (photo from Fondation Jérôme Lejeune)

Jérôme Lejeune (1926-1994) was a French physician whose work led to an understanding of the genetic cause of Down’s syndrome. On January 26, 1959, the French Academy of Science published the result of his research into what he called Trisomy 21.

Lejeune was strongly pro-life, and he was distressed at the subsequent use of prenatal testing to identify and abort children with Down’s syndrome. While becoming a professor of genetics, he also became an advocate for children with genetic anomalies.

A few of his quotations summarize his life and work.

Again and again we see this absolute misconception of trying to defeat a disease by eliminating the patient! It’s ridiculous to stand beside a patient and solemnly say, ‘Who is this upstart who refuses to be cured? How dare he resist our art? Let’s get rid of him!’ Medicine becomes mad science when it attacks the patient instead of fighting the disease. We must always be on the patient’s side, always.

We need to be clear: The quality of a civilization can be measured by the respect it has for its weakest members. There is no other criterion. 

The genetic makeup of a human being is complete from the moment of fertilization: Not a single scientist doubts it. What some of them want to debate is the amount of respect due to an individual based on her stage of development. If a human being is a half-inch long, does she deserve respect? If she is 20 inches long, does she deserve 40 times more? People who use years and pounds to quantify the respect due to another human being are not well intentioned.

Available from Amazon.com: a biography of Dr. Lejeune by his daughter (click on image for more information).

Photo credit: “Jérôme Lejeune” by Fondation Jérôme Lejeune – Fondation Jérôme Lejeune. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:J%C3%A9r%C3%B4me_Lejeune.TIF#mediaviewer/File:J%C3%A9r%C3%B4me_Lejeune.TIF