Dr. Jerome Lejeune

In life, Jerome Lejeune may have found little peace as a pro-life scientist and geneticist. But one thing is certain – he is finding little peace in death.

Incredible press stories out of France during Pope John Paul II’s visit to that country this summer described Lejeune as “an anti-abortion militant credited with being the driving force behind violent protests in France.” The occasion for the brouhaha was the Pope’s decision to visit Lejeune’s grave in the course of his visit.

One story in  London’s Daily Telgraph, claimed that under Lejeune’s guidance, “anti-abortion commandos were set up and some of their surviving leaders (were) sentenced to jail  terms.” The story was carried in Canadian newspapers, including those in the Southam chain.

Lejeune, who served as an advisor to the Pope, died in 1994. French “family planning” groups protested that the Pope’s visit to Lejeune’s grave could have been interpreted by some as support for violence against medical staff who perform abortions. For that reason, the visit was seen as “the most controversial” aspect of the Pope’s visit.

The press reports shocked at least two Canadians who knew Lejeune and his work well – Campaign Life Coalition president Jim Hughes and Interim columnist Winifride Prestwich. Both dismissed the charges that Lejeune fomented violent protests as utter nonsense.

“Dr. Lejeune was more gratified by his pro-life work than any of the scientific honors he received,” said Winifride Prestwich.

There were certainly many awards given to Lejeune. In the 1950s, he discovered that Down’s Syndrome is caused by the presence of an extra chromosome, marking the first time chromosome aberrations were related to a disease.

He received hundreds of awards and international recognitions for his work in genetics, and was a member of numerous prestigious medical societies including the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Royal Society of Medicine in London and the Pontifical Academy of Sciences in Rome.

He was awarded the first Kennedy Award by President John F. Kennedy, just a few months before the president’s assassination, for his work with children.

In 1981, Lejeune testified at a U.S. Senate judiciary subcommittee hearing into when human life begins that after fertilization “a new human being has come into being.” He stated that it was not a matter of taste, opinion or metaphysical contention, but plain, experimental evidence. “Each individual has a very neat beginning, at conception,” he said.

He also testified at his own expense in 1989 at a custody dispute over the fate of seven frozen embryos in Maryville, Tenn. During speaking appearances in Canada, including one in 1993, Lejeune spoke out against the RU486 abortion-pill concoction developed by one of his fellow countrymen. “If you introduce a poison for your own children with the benediction of the state … how do you suppose it can be good to kill your own baby but not your enemy?”

He lamented that by government fiat, politicians throughout the world have decided that what was once considered murder is now considered a right and a liberator of women. “I have difficulty understanding that,” he said.

He also criticized proposed Canadian guidelines on reproductive technologies that allow experimentation on embryos of up to 14 days’ gestation. “That law is very curious. It is wrong,” he said, adding that it was absurd to suggest that by some magic, a human being comes about after an arbitrary 15 days of existence. “When the law does not tell the truth, it is self-contradictory.”

Lejeune said it should be the goal of science to pursue the good fruits of its endeavors and prevent humanity from using the bad ones. Lejeune was always a popular and respected speaker at various pro-life conferences.

Lejeune debated head on with RU486 founder Etienne Baulieu on French television, noting that unlike Baulieu, he was a doctor who fought “on the side of life and not of death.” He won 62 per cent of the vote in a post-debate poll on which debater sounded more convincing.

Human Life International founder Father Paul Marx recalled Lejeune’s prediction that RU486 would kill more people than Hitler, Stalin and Mao Tse-Tung combined. The two testified together at hearings into legalized abortion in New Zealand in 1976.

Canadian philosophy professor Donald DeMarco once lauded Lejeune as “a fervent Catholic and a staunch defender of life.”

The latest tactics by pro-abortion groups seem to be little more than a smear campaign against a man who was one of the pro-life movement’s most potent weapons. Lejeune, as the TV debate with Baulieu showed, was adept at demolishing pro-abortion arguments with ease.

The media and pro-abortion groups seem intent on taking advantage of the legal fact that one cannot be sued for libelling a dead person. Thus, the lies are perpetrated about Lejeune’s supposed links to violence.