Lejeune's Legacy: The Contested History of the Discovery of Trisomy 21 (Down Syndrome)

Historian and author, David Wright, will give an account of Jerome Lejeune's contested landmark discovery, Trisomy 21, and explore its impact on modern social values, ethics, and disability law.

Date & Time:

Thursday, April 28, 2016
6:30 PM - 8:00 PM


Free and open to the public.


O'Shaughnessy Educational Center Auditorium
University of St. Thomas
Saint Paul campus


Approved for a continuing legal education credit (event code 218761). 

David Wright

The 1959 discovery of the first human trisomy--trisomy 21--has traditionally been attributed to the cytogeneticist Jerome Lejeune, who received the Kennedy Medal of Honor for this landmark discovery establishing the first link between Down Syndrome and a genetic cause.  But years after he passed away, his colleague, Marthe Gautier, claimed that Lejeune had elbowed her aside and stolen the credit for what had been her work.  This assertion adds yet another layer to the mystery that is Lejeune--a devout Catholic who became personally troubled by the inadvertent contribution of the discovery of Trisomy 21 to the rise of genetic testing in the late 1960s and 1970s.  Lejeune has been named "Servant of God" by the Catholic Church and his cause for sainthood is currently being promoted.   

In his public lecture, Dr. Wright will give a historical account of Jerome Lejeune’s contested discovery of Trisomy 21 and explore its unexpected and controversial impact on modern ethics and social values. 

‌‌David Wright  is Professor of History and Canada Research Chair in the History of Health Policy, McGill University. He is the author of Downs: The History of a Disability (Oxford University Press, 2011), which offers a narrative of how society has responded to Down Syndrome over the course of modern history.  The book was awarded the 2013 Dingle Prize for the best scholarly work in the history of science and medicine accessible to a general audience.

All programs offered by the University of St. Thomas shall be readily accessible to individuals with disabilities. For details, call (651) 962-6315.