The day after the pro-life movement suffered a major loss with the inauguration of pro-abortion President Joe Biden, something very good happened for us. The Vatican announced that Dr. Jerome Lejeune, a geneticist known for discovering the genetic basis of Down syndrome and the first president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, has been declared Venerable. The designation of ‘Venerable’ denotes the Catholic Church’s recognition of a person’s heroic virtues. There are two more steps for Dr. Lejeune to become a saint, beatification and canonization, which require one and then two miracles respectively.
Venerable Jerome Lejeune was born in 1926 outside of Paris. In the 1950s, Lejeune became a doctor, and, by 1958, he had discovered that Down syndrome was caused by a third copy of the 21st chromosome. Once he made the discovery, he dedicated the rest of his life to finding a cure for the condition. Lejeune had a deep and genuine care for people with Down syndrome, particularly children who he called his “little ones”.
His care, however, did not stop at scientific discovery. He would help find educational and professional opportunities for his special needs patients at his private clinic. The solution for those with special needs proposed by others, however, absolutely horrified him. Lejeune’s discovery of the third 21st chromosome led other doctors and scientists to create prenatal diagnosis methods, which had deadly results. Abortion after a prenatal diagnosis became the norm and remains the norm today, with the majority of those prenatally diagnosed with Down syndrome being aborted in the U.S. and many European countries, including the United Kingdom, which has a 90% abortion rate in these cases. Lejeune understood that the point of medicine was to heal people and make their lives better, not over, so he routinely used his platform to speak out against this ‘Final Solution’, which he termed “chromosomal racism”.
The first laws in France to legalize abortion were focused on “defective” fetuses, and Lejeune was one of the only scientists to advocate against these laws. This earned him many enemies in the scientific community and society as a whole, shown in his loss of research grants, friends, and any hope of career advancement. He even received death threats. Lejeune suffered greatly for the courageous stand that he took, but he persisted. Amid all of the negativity, Lejeune did find one key ally. After meeting with Pope John Paul II in 1981, the two men kept up a correspondence that resulted in Lejeune being named the inaugural president of the Pontifical Academy for Life in 1994, shortly before his death. Today, the Jerome Lejeune Foundation continues the legacy of this wonderful man, providing support for people with Down syndrome and their families.
I have had a particular interest in the cause for canonization of Jerome Lejeune in the few years since I discovered his ministry. I have prayed for it, attempted to create a campus-wide distribution of prayer cards in my high school, and even had rolls of stickers made with Lejeune’s face on them to spread awareness of this wonderful man’s life and ministry. For people with special needs, it is important that we see examples of people standing up for us, and that those examples become popularized, so that the world knows that we do not and cannot stand for the slaughter of babies in the womb, especially so systematically on the basis of genetic difference. This was a great day for the pro-life movement and the special needs community. Venerable Jerome Lejeune, pray for us.