What can medical ethics be based upon?

Pr. Jérôme LEJEUNE


A long time ago in Bukarest I was obliged to make a statement in the year of the woman. I was a member of the Vatican delegation at the press conference, there were a lot of people, journalists, photographers and so, and one of them rose and asked me "When you say that one should respect human being however tiny, do you say that because you are catholic?" and I said to bishop, who was the head of the delegation, "Monseigneur, may I answer very bluntly , franckly?" and he said "yes, you may", and I said to the man "Listen, if the Church - thanks God, she does not do that - but if the Church would say : "it is allowed to destroy foetuses in utero, because they are not human beings", I would not be any longer catholic, and that for purely scientific reasons". That was interesting because the press did not reported that statement. But you can believe it ; and I'll explain now to you, why.

I was saying " for scientific reasons", because just now a kind of new obscurantism is spread over most of the civilizations of the world; the more we know about genetics, the more people pretends that we ignore about the nature of human beings. We know more about genes, about chromosomes, embryology, and we know less and less about "what is a human being" ! I cannot believe that stupidity. I cannot believe that we increase science, increase knowledge - and this is what we are told every day in the newspapers, and at the same time we produce this kind of obscurantism. It is a duty of a scientist just to tell to the general population don't believe what they tell you ; look in the books, look in the literature in the science, and you will progressively understand something that a big writer said in America just after the Drett Scott case. This man said simply "A man is a man is a man". This very simple phrase was the end of the slavery in America. (Drett Scott decision, March 1857 : The Supreme Court of the USA decided that black persons were not legal persons according to the United States Constitution. Eleven years and a civil war later, this mistake was corrected by the 13th and 14th amendments to the Constitution).

Well, we have to define, what is human life. I'm not going to make too much, of a course, a teaching course of human genetics, well, I'm obliged a little, but let's us try to make it palatable. First I start with a very simple experiment I do every time I can, when I am in a foreign country. As a professor of genetics I like very much to visit two points : one is the university, of course, and the other is the zoological garden. Both of them are very instructive. In the universities, I have very often seen very learned people asking themselves whether, their own children were not some kind of animals, when they were very young. But in the zoological garden, I have never seen a congress of chimpanzees asking themselves whether, their children would become some day university members! So, I get the impression just by this experience, that there should be a difference of nature between human beings and chimpanzee beings.

Well science is telling us, by the long road of the biochemical study of DNA, that there is really a difference. But although no animal on earth and even the chimpanzee is entirely alike a human being, I must confess, that when I discuss with my colleagues, something strange can be observed. Some of them believe that they were chimpanzees like, when they were very small in the womb of their mothers ; now that they are grown up they don't like to be called chimpanzees : They consider themselves as humans, pretending that they have changed their species. But that does not exist ; species and the specificaty of the brain are written at the beginning.

Indeed it is written in a very minute language, and to give you an idea, when you look at the head of a sperm, which is carrying the genetic information from father inside the ovum (which contains the genetic information transmitted by mother) you have to realize that inside the head of that sperm, which would fit at ease at the tip of a needle, there is a kind of ribbon, one meter long. This DNA molecule is split in 23 pieces, and each piece is so finely coiled by super-coiling and super-super-coiling, that it looks finally like a very tiny rod what we call chromosomes. Now, if you look at the ovum, you will find another meter of DNA, in which everything also is written, and which is coiled also in 23 pieces. When the 23 volumes of the table of the law of life coming from mother receive the complementary volumes - 23 - coming from father, the whole sufficient and necessary information to build a new being of that particular species is gathered. What I am telling is true for a man and is true for a chimpanzee, it's true for any bi-parental reproduction system. At the very moment the whole information is there, the new being begins its existence.

Now some people would tell you - and, surprisingly, some of them are Nobel prize winners, they tell you that life never begins, because it always continues. That's true ; life is transmitted from parents to children since long ago... But, even for a white haired professor of genetics the idea of being a million of years old is not very palatable. I become totally preposterous, when it refers to a young woman. Obviously she is not one million years old, if she is on her twenties? With the same security as with the zoo experiment we can state obviously that each living being has begins at the very moment at which the whole necessary and sufficient information to animate the matter was enclosed in this tiny sphere, one millimeter and a half of diameter that we call a fecundated zygote.

Remember : living matter does not exist. Pure materialism can not explain anything, because matter cannot live. What exists, is animated matter. Enclosed inside the first cell an "information" is animating it ; this message tells that cell is a new human being". If the information was not there, the cell would not be alive. The cell is in fact the substratum of this information. We have to realize that information is not superimposed upon a matter already alive, but that matter would not be living at all without this information. The old opposition between materialism and spiritualism is forgone. We know now, beyond any reasonable doubt, that between spirit and matter, it is the spirit that matters !

Let us take a familiar example : a tape recorder. Suppose you have bought in the shop a minicassette, in which a symphony is recorded, let's suppose it is "Die kleine Nachtmusik" by Mozart. Now, you put the cassette inside the tape recorder, and what comes out of it? Indeed the process is very complex, it needs an orchestra, the musicians, the maestro. During the recording a microphone captured the vibrations of the air and translated it into an electric code, which was printed on the tape band as a magnetic code. This magnetic code is read by the tape recorder and translated back into electric impulses, which drives the loudspeaker pushing the air so that it restitutes the musics. But look, what is really transmitted to you is not only the movements of the air. Truly speaking it is the genius of Mozart.

Now, it's exactly the way the life symphony is played. I told you that was one meter of DNA inside the sperm, and there was also one meter inside the egg ; those two meters contain exactly all the minicassettes of the symphony of life. And when they are inside this tape recorder, which is the whole cell - because only a cell is able to read what is written on the DNA -, then the symphony begins. Certainly a music lover will recognize Mozart at the two first bars, because he feels the genius of Mozart. But a newcomer, which does know anything about music, has to listen to the entire opus, before he can say "Well, I've heard "Die kleine Nachtmusik".

Exactly the same with human life. People, who do not know about science, about this animation of matter, about the information written in the DNA, would tell you, "well, to be sure it's a man, I have to wait until that thing tells me "I am a man". That would take around seven years, because it takes the age of reason to be really able to say "I am a man". Well, some people would be a little more clever, they could look at the form, and they would recognize that a newborn baby is looking like themselves, only smaller. Now, if they look at the form intelligently, they can even recognize it at two months of age, in utero. All the mothers have invented in every civilization to teach sexual education to their children by a marvelous story, adventures of TOM-THUMB. Every woman knows before children come to the light of the sun, they live in an underground world, curious, marvelous, in which tiny little beings are enjoying a mysterious life. And if that story is still enchanting children all around the world, and if even grown up are listening to it, it's because it is a true story. It has not been invented ; each of us has been a TOM-THUMB in the womb of his mother.

Without any training, no one looking at a TOM THUMB in utero, a two months old foetus, would make a mistake between a chimpanzee baby, or a human baby. No error is possible, just looking at the fingers and the toes (I don't speak about looking at the face, which is typically human and very different from that of a chimp indeed !). Can we go earlier? Yes, a geneticists, we know a little bit more than the fairy tale ; we can study the constitution of a man. And here, the more we recognize that matter is animated by the information, the closer we come to deciphering this enormous amount of information which is in the first egg, the more we are forced to recognize "a man is a man is a man". A man would never be man, if he were not, conceived as a man, he would never become a member of our kind.

But these experimental evidences are sometimes overlooked. A recent English legislation allows the vivisection of human beings, when they are very young. It has been decided by the House of Lords, and undersigned by the Queen of England, the British citizen are not human beings until their fourteenth day of age, that is fourteen days after fecundation. I have a deep respect for the United Kingdom and for the Queen of England. Possibly She thought that in honor of a new God : which has been named "Pluralism", she should sign that "pluralistic" decision that human beings are not humans and possibly not beings until fourteen days of age. Now, if pluralism is going to tell us something wick is contrary to science, it does not matter at all, whether it has been properly voted or not. If a law is that wrong as to tell "the early human being is not a human being" it is not a law at all. It can be a manipulation of opinion, a capitulation of the parliament, due to the pressure of a dominant ideology, but it does not tells the truth !

We can verify it easily. If this law tells the truth, all the subjects of here Gracious Majesty were animals during there first 14 days of their life. The Queen also, and her father were and her for fathers. Then the dynastic transmission was interrupted, at each generation, by a non human intermediary !

The same would apply to the members of the parliament and it would be unbearable that the destiny of a noble nation was in the hands of former animals !

Obviously the Queen of England and all the - Britons have been conceived as human persons ; the contrary would be unconceivable.

It's really very simple and very logical. Indeed you are not obliged to accept science. You could say : Well, we prefer to be ignorant, we refuse absolutely any novelty and any discovery. It's a position ; I should say, it's a "politically correct" position in some countries, but it is an obscurantist position ; and Science dislike obscurantism.

May I say that I have learned a lot in Japan. One day I visited, close to Nagasaki, in Fukuoka, a very nice congregation of nuns ; one of them was French, all of the others were Japanese. They invited me because they have a big school for girls, I think they had 2 000 pupils in their school. And they asked "Because you are here, come to our community and tell us a little about all those genetic manipulations, in vitro fertilization and so on. We want to know in order to tell what is true and what is untrue to our students. An evening I explained to tell them what was in vitro fertilization. In fact no man can "produce" a embryo no technician can make in vitro fertilization. What he can do is to put the egg and the sperms into such conditions, that one of the sperms will enter inside the egg. So it's a sperm, which makes fecundation, not the technician. Babies, who come out from in vitro fertilization, are just made in the natural way ; what is unnatural is the way of mixing together the sperm and the ovum. But the babies are very natural human beings indeed.

The reason why extra-corporeal fecundation is not really, so to speak, catholic, its because it does not respect the rules of catholic marriage. Marriage was normally founded on the notion that the husband possesses the extraordinary privilege of being the only one in the world allowed to put its semen (i.e. its reproductive cells) inside that secret temple, which is the sexual organ of his spouse. If the egg is just ripe in those few days, just before or just after the intercourse, a sperm entering the egg will give birth to a new human being. At that moment Mother Superior interrupted me and said very rapidly something in Japanese to the sister, who was translating ; the sister answered something, but did not translated it to me and so I continued. But at the end I asked the sister "what did you tell the superior?" And she said "well, she was just asking whether you were speaking Japanese". I said "No, I don't, I don't understand any word of Japanese ; well, I can say arrigato ; i.e. thank you" and that's it". Then continued the little sisters that in Japanese the womb is called "SHI-KYU". ["SHI"] means "palace", a temple, and "KYU" means "child" or "secret". Then, when I said about the sexual organ, that it was a secret temple, she believed that I knew Japanese. Because in Japanese the womb is called "the palace of the child".

For me, this was a revelation. I'm not a linguist, but as soon, as we try to express the deep understanding we have of nature, no matter if we speak English, French or Japanese, finally we use the same concept. Really, the womb is a much more elaborated place to have new human being coming to life than the best laboratory. It works much better it is much more advanced as far as biochemical science is concerned, but it's also the only place, which is really worthy of a new human being. Truly the common language is more scientific than it is generally held by specialists.

In English for example, when we speak about an idea coming to our mind, or when we speak about a new human being coming into existence, we use the same word, the same concept : we conceive an idea - a baby is conceived. In both cases the action is the conception, and conception defines as well an activity of our mind as the beginning of a human being. That is revealing ; the wisdom of men, has progressively understood about their own nature : The language tells us, that at the very beginning of life, spirit and matter, I would say, soul and body, are so much intricately interwoven, that we use the same word as to define an idea coming to mind and a man coming to life. It is not a poverty of the vocabulary if we use "conception" for both of them, because it's the only way to define what is really the beginning of life : spirit animating matter.

This is so true that this message can persist even if life is apparently suspended. I was obliged to explain that some years ago in America in a small court room, in a little town called Maryville in Tennessee, there was a divorce trial ; the man and the woman had lived for twelve years together, and to their desperation they could not have children. Finally, they decided to have an extra-corporeal fecundation, in vitro fertilization. Nine eggs were recuperated from the ovary of the woman, and they were fertilized in a test tube by sperms of her husband. Seven of the tiny embryos were put into the refrigerator, they were deep frozen. And two of them were implanted directly in the womb of their mother. Unfortunately those two did not survive. (You have to know, that this is the fate of 95% of the embryo-transfers in the IVF process. When you read about the marvels of manipulation of human embryos, you have to know that the human embryos produced in vitro and later implanted in the womb of a woman, only 5% of them come to birth).

After that they decided to divorce. They were agreeing on everything, about the car, about the refrigerator, about the bank account, splitting everything. But, the mother said, "I want to get the custody of my children". And the man said, "I do not want. Because, if she bears those children up to birth, I will be supposedly the father, and I don't want that a woman from whom I divorce is be the mother of my children". And the judge was in front of an important task. It was the first time a divorce trial was forcing the justice of defining if frozen embryos were things or humans. The judge decided to open the court to testimony of scientists, who could help to the manifestation of the truth. One of my friends, Martin Palmer, phoned to me in Paris, telling the whole story. In particular, he reported that the woman had requested that, in the worst case, the children would be given to another woman so that they could be brought to life. Then I answered to my friend on the other side of the Atlantic. "Well, in that case, this trial has already been judged ; The real mother to whom the custody of the children shall be given is the one, who prefers that the children be given to another woman than to be killed. That has been judged three thousand years ago by Salomon".

Because of my consultation at the hospital, I took the plane the day after. The judge Dale young was kind enough as to postpone the last day of the trial until I could arrive. In Maryville, there were a lot of television cameras, big trucks with parabolas, pushing the bear up to the stationary satellite, so that it could rain down the whole United States. Canada and Mexico. At the press conference, the first thing they asked me, 'who paid your trip?" That's America.

English is a very concise language, so I said "I" and "next?". Then they asked me "what have you said to the judge?" (the interview was after my testimony, which lasted four hours). "I just told the court that we know by science that after conception has taken place a new human being begins his carrier, because we know that information animates matter". I repeat myself, but they had to understand the argument. "In the refrigerator, when we diminish the temperature, as in the super market for the frozen food, what is really happening, is that we are lowering the speed of the movements of the molecules. But this movement of the molecules is a definition of the flux of time. Then, in the true sense of terms, when the temperature goes down close to the absolute zero - (which we cannot reach ; it is a limit, but we can come close to it) -, then progressively what we stop is not life, it is time. And inside the bottle with liquid nitrogen inside - it's not minus 237° C, it's only minus 180° C, the time is quite totally arrested -, the tiny embryos, which are one millimeter and a half of diameter, are now surviving in a suspended time. They are not dead, because if we give them back the right temperature, they will begin again to flourish and to grow.

Then obviously we have the experimental demonstration of what I have said at the beginning from biochemistry : something is written on a long molecule like the tape band of the symphony. We know that really the information is frozen and any manifestation of life is then suppressed. Conversely, life can proliferate again, if this information has not been destroyed and is allowed to animate matter at the temperature at which matter can be animated. Matter cannot be animated at every temperature ; in the frozen state it is not susceptible to be directed by the genetic information. That's the reason why our body temperature is around 37°C ; if it was beyond or below it, your will could not command to the matter.

To make it clear, I told the judge "Those tiny embryos in this big tank of liquid nitrogen are really arrested in a kind of can, in which even the time is arrested. And to be more drastic, I used the word "concentration can, for this precinct, in which human embryos can be kept by the thousand, in a suspended time". When I was talking to the press, they asked me "You said Concentration camp?" "O No, I said, it's a mistake. I said "concentration can". "Can", because the concentration camp has been used to speed up terribly death. On the contrary, the concentration can has been invented to slow down terribly life. But in both cases the concentration system is closed over innocents : That's the reason why concentration is no goods.

A lot more things could be told about genetics. Just a word to finish : Like all the professors of fundamental genetics around the world, I have taught for years an erroneous signification. It's only since the last two years that we have been corrected. We have taught that the genetic information coming from father was just equivalent to the genetic information coming from mother, which was seeming by a very simple and straightforward statement. When you look about the inheritance of the blood groups or the inheritance of the color of the skin, or of the eyes, it seers to be very correct. But when you come to the building of body, to the auto construction of the being by itself, it's not any longer true. And we have learned in the last years that the long ribbon of DNA is marked at different places by methylation (those of you who know a little about genetics, will understand, what I mean, by methylation of cytosine inside the fiber of DNA). A good student does exactly the same thing before an exam. He takes a pen and underlines what he has to memorize immediately for the next examination, and crosses out what he is not obliged to learn just now. This is precisely what does nature. All the fathers are underlining the same segment of the DNA, and all the mothers are underlining the same segment of the DNA also, but not at an equivalent place. There is a male way of underlining DNA by methylation and a female way which is different. The male is underlining the information to be used immediately to build the membranes, which are the walls of the private life of the embryo, and to build the placenta, through which the baby will gain the food from the blood of mother. That is underlined on the masculine way. What is underlined on the feminine way is all the trick of the trade to make the spare pieces from which the embryo can build her body.

We know all that by pathology. Sometimes a pathological process occurs after fertilization. Only the male pronucleus stays in, and the female pronucleus die out. That is not a human being. That will make vesicules and membranes, and we call it a hydatiformis mole. That will end in a miscarriage with no baby inside. Conception has not really taken place. Only the masculine know how, had been transmitted : how to build the hut and go hunting.

On the contrary, it happens (very rarely), that in the ovary of a virgin one of the eggs begins to divide, and produces what is programmed in the feminine way of life. That is, elaborate the components of the body. That makes teeth, hair, nails, even sore nervous tissue, all that totally disordered. No human being is conceived, only spare pieces are made. This has been the extraordinary discovery of the last two years ; in the tiny sphere (one millimeter and a half) of the fertilized zygote, just after the entry of the sperm, there is already written by methylation of cytosine on the DNA, this sharing of the duties between male and female. The male is supposed to get the food and to build the shelter ; the woman is expected to be able elaborating the baby. All that is already written in the tiny sphere of one millimeter and a half.

Now, if those very recent discoveries of genetics, of embryology, do not convince our generation, that a man is a man is a man, it is not because our fellow citizen are not intelligent enough ; It's not because they don't see the evidence it is because they want to be blindfold. As a scientist I would ask all the parliaments of the world : "You, Parliament, you are not allowed withhold the truth to your population. You have to tell your population that the human being begin at his beginning otherwise it would never be a human Being. If you pretend that the legislator does not know, it's not a consensus, that you are establishing, it is a nonsense ; an absence of sense, a refusal of the truth. No government of the world, if it pretends to be democratic or pluralistic, is allowed to refuse to tell the truth ; only the truth liberates.

A last word. If you believe in God, you are not obliged to learn genetics, because you know enough to behave. Even to behave in all those matters about "what is a human being", "how to protect a human being", "how to respect a human being", whether it is allowed to manipulate embryos or not. Well, what you need to remember is a very simple command : which will guide you in any circumstance and tell what to do and what not to do.

No votation is needed, no decision making process is required, no radio listening, no T.V. watching, just one phrase to keep on your heart.

If that phrase is respected by the law makers, if it is observed by the experimentalists, then, I can tell you, science will remain the honest servant of humanity, but if they do forget it, then everything could be feared from a denatured biology.

This phrase as you know is very simple indeed but it judges everything : "What you have done to the smallest of mine, you have done it unto me".