Saturday, March 01, 2008

When Does Human Life Begin?
by Dr. Jerome Lejeune

The late Dr. Jerome Lejeune was an internationally known geneticist and a professor of genetics at the University of Rene Descartes in Paris. Dr. Lejeune received the Kennedy Award from the late President for his discovery that Down's syndrome (Trisomy 21) was due to an extra chromosome. Dr. Lejeune contributed greatly to genetic research to prevent and treat Trisomy 21. The following testimony was given by Dr. Lejeune before a U.S. Senate Judiciary subcommittee.

When does a person begin? I will try to give the most precise answer to that question actually available to science. Modern biology teaches us that ancestors are united to their progeny by a continuous material link, for it is from the fertilization of the female cell (the ovum) by the male cell (the spermatozoa) that a new member of the species will emerge. Life has a very, very long history but each individual has a very neat beginning:
the moment of its conception.

The material link is the molecular thread of DNA. In each reproductive cell, this ribbon, roughly one meter long, is cut into pieces (23 in our species). Each segment is carefully coiled and packaged (like a magnetic tape in a minicassette) so that under the microscope it appears like a little rod, a chromosome.

As soon as the 23 paternally derived chromosomes are united, through fertilization, to the 23 maternal ones, the full genetic information necessary and sufficient to express all the inborn qualities of the new individual is gathered. Exactly as the introduction of a minicassette inside a tape recorder will allow the restitution of the symphony, the new being begins to express himself as soon as he has been conceived.

Natural sciences and the sciences of law speak the same language. Of an individual enjoying a robust health - a biologist would say that he has a good constitution -of a society developing itself harmoniously to the benefit of all its members, a legislator would state that it has an equitable constitution.

Nature works the same way. The chromosomes are the tables of the law of life, and when they have been gathered in the new being (the voting process is the fertilization), they fully spell-out his personal constitution.

What is bewildering is the minuteness of the scripture. It is hard to believe, although beyond any possible doubt, that the whole genetic information necessary and sufficient to build our body and even our brain, the most powerful problem-solving device, even able to analyze the laws of the universe, could be epitomized so that its material substratum could fit neatly on the point of a needle!

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