In 1958, a brilliant young 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 and researcher. In 1969, he was awarded the highest prize in genetics—the William Allan Award. Lejeune was probably destined to receive the Nobel Prize in medicine.
But Lejeune 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. Lejeune's 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" and a "rejection of medicine" that is "beyond heartbreaking." After receiving the William Allan Award, he gave a speech to his colleagues which openly criticized 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 … his duty."
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 …. 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.