On May 22,1958, Doctor Jerome Lejeune leaned into his outdated microscope to study chromosomes taken from the tissue of a child with a genetic anomaly. With a sharp eye, he spotted something strange. Under typical circumstances, a baby is born with 46 chromosomes. This baby had as extra copy of chromosome 21. Lejeune leaned back in his chair and took a deep breath. The tissue was taken from a child with Down Syndrome. He had just discovered the cause of Down Syndrome, also known as Trisomy 21. Thankful that he had devised a way to attach a camera to the microscope, he snapped photographs of the slide. With excitement, he shared the photographs with other scientists. Now that he had discovered the cause of this genetic defect, researchers could find ways to treat it.
Little did he know that this groundbreaking discovery would lead to his greatest heartbreak. Other scientists used the detection of Trisomy 21 in utero to abort children. In his native France, 90% of children with this birth defect are aborted.
Thus began the odyssey of Jerome Lejeune, known as the father of modern genetics. His story is told in the inspiring hour-long documentary film, To the Least of My Brothers and Sisters, produced by 4 PM Media. Filmed in France and the United States, the filmmakers use archival footage and recent interviews with family and colleagues to tell a riveting story of Lejeune’s genius and the persecution he endured for his defense of human life.
Some of the most moving segments of the film are the parents of these special children who had been outcasts before Dr. Lejeune took up their cause. With tears in their eyes they spoke of the extraordinary kindness and love he had for children that flocked to his clinic.
In 1969, Lejeune was at the peak of his career and in great demand to speak at scientific conferences. And then something happened. The American Society of Human Genetics bestowed on him the William Allen Award : the world’s highest honor in genetics. Two hundred scientists sat dumbfounded as he delivered an acceptance speech in defense of the human embryo, asserting that human life begins at conception, an assertion now accepted as fact by the scientific community.
Listen to one scientist who was in attendance. “Wow! It was great. He called a spade a spade. It was scientific logic, not religion. He created an earthquake. It was a bomb being dropped.”
As Lejeune finished, there was a smattering of applause and a chorus of boos. He walked through the crowd and they made a path for him, refusing to shake his hand.
Lejeune wrote to his wife. “I have just lost the Nobel Prize for Medicine.”
The brilliant geneticist was ostracized by the scientific community. Research funding disappeared. He was not invited to speak at conferences. Death threats were made on his family, hateful graffiti spray painted on the walls of his clinic. Tires on their cars were slashed. Opponents hurled objects at him. Yet he did not remain silent. Lejeune debated on television with scientists who supported abortion. After a time, those invitations ceased. He spoke the truth with clarity. His words were irrefutable.
Thanks to this fine documentary, offered free to the public, we hear and see the heroic life of Dr. Jerome Lejeune, who died on April 3, 1994. It ends on a hopeful note. We see the celebration of these special people at a national conference. We hear a young doctor from Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston speak with excitement about his work in this field. We learn that research is now being done to modify the effects of Trisomy 21 and possibly find a cure. It is the work Dr. Lejeune desperately wanted to achieve in his lifetime. One day his dream will come true.
On January 21, 2021, Dr. Jerome Lejeune was declared Venerable by Pope Francis, declaring Lejeune to have lived a life of heroic virtue.