Kenneth Hallenius | May 8, 2017
“Professor Lejeune’s great genius was the piercing quality of his vision, which saw in the weakest members of society nothing less than the reflection of the Creator,” said O. Carter Snead, William P. and Hazel B. White Director of the Notre Dame Center for Ethics and Culture. “For persons with Down syndrome and other genetic disabilities, this vision was, quite simply, transformative. Where once they were shunned, hidden away, and disinherited by a society that did not understand them, Lejeune’s discovery in 1958 of an extra chromosome on the twenty-first pair enabled this humble French doctor to bring his patients—his ‘little ones,’ as he called them—into the light.”The Notre Dame Center for Ethics and Culture awarded the 2017 Notre Dame Evangelium Vitae Medal to the Jérôme Lejeune Foundation at a Mass and banquet on April 29, 2017 attended by more than 400 guests, including dozens of persons with Down syndrome and their families.
Snead concluded, “The Jérôme Lejeune Foundation continues to speak out on behalf of society’s disinherited via public advocacy that helps the world to see with the eyes of Professor Lejeune, to love with his radical hospitality, to appreciate the beauty in our differences—and above all, to recognize in each unique individual the reflection of the Creator, which unites us all with equal dignity.”
In a message of greeting from Pope Francis sent for the occasion, the Cardinal Secretary of State wrote, "Mindful of the Foundation's commitment to assisting children with genetic intelligence disorders, His Holiness prays that this presentation may highlight the urgent need to support and defend the dignity of all human life, from conception to natural death. This includes not only serving children with special needs, but also providing for the care and support of their families, who 'render the Church and society an invaluable witness of faithfulness to the gift of life'" (Amoris Laetitia 47).
Professor Jérôme Lejeune was born in 1926 in Montrouge, France. In 1958, while studying chromosomes of patients with Down syndrome, he discovered an unexpected third chromosome on the 21st pair, a genetic abnormality he named trisomy 21. This discovery was the first to link an intellectual disability to a genetic cause. Professor Lejeune also conducted pioneering research into trisomy 18 and trisomies on the 8th and 9th chromosomal pairs.