Jerome Lejeune Foundation to receive 2017 Evangelium Vitae Medal

The Notre Dame Center for Ethics and Culture annually awards the Evangelium Vitae Medal to honor those who have made significant contributions to the pro-life movement. The recipient is announced every year on Respect Life Sunday, the first Sunday of October. On October 2, the Center announced that the Jerome Lejeune Foundation, which advocates on behalf of unborn children with Downs Syndrome, will receive the 2017 Evangelium Vitae Medal. At a banquet to be held on April 29, 2017, the Center will present the Jerome Lejeune Foundation with a specially commissioned medal and $10,000.

Last year, the award honored the Little Sisters of the Poor and their Mother Provincial, Sister Loraine Marie Maguire, for their efforts to promote the dignity of all human life from conception to natural death through their lawsuit against the HHS mandate and through their charism of care for the elderly. In previous years, the medal recognized the pro-life efforts of Richard Doerflinger, Associate Director of the USCCB’s Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities; Helen M. Alvaré, Associate Professor of Law at George Mason University; Mother Agnes Mary Donovan and the Sisters of Life; Congressman Chris Smith and his wife Marie Smith; and Supreme Knight Carl Anderson and the Knights of Columbus.

O. Carter Snead, Professor of Law and the William P. and Hazel B. White Director of the Notre Dame Center for Ethics and Culture, told the Rover, “The Evangelium Vitae Medal is central to Notre Dame’s countercultural pro-life witness in the world of higher academia and the global public square.”

The Jerome Lejeune Foundation continues the work of Doctor Jerome Lejeune, a geneticist who helped to find the chromosomal cause of Downs Syndrome. While he often faced opposition to his views, Lejeune spoke up in defense of both born and unborn people with chromosomal intellectual disabilities such as Downs Syndrome and continually declared their dignity and worth against the threat posed to them by abortion. He believed that “therapeutic abortions” were a corruption of the medical industry and said, “Medicine becomes mad science when it attacks the patient instead of fighting the disease. We must always be on the patient’s side, always.”

Snead told the Rover, “Dr. Lejeune was the first President of the Pontifical Academy for Life, which advises the Pope on culture of life issues. I have the great honor to serve on that body with Dr. Lejeune’s widow, Berthe.” Berthe Lejeune is also the vice president of the Jerome Lejeune Foundation.

Because of his exemplary life and commitment to those with Downs Syndrome, the Vatican declared Lejeune a Servant of God in 2011.

Dr. Lejeune’s work is continued by the Jerome Lejeune Foundation, which researches ways to improve the lives of people with genetic intellectual disabilities and advocates especially on behalf of unborn children with Downs Syndrome. Founded in 1989, the foundation’s mission is to “[pioneer] innovative therapies to improve the lives of those with genetic intellectual disabilities.” Taking their ethical code seriously, the Foundation refuse to fund projects that use biological material harvested from an abortion. Snead said, “Their work and commitment perfectly reflects the spirit of the Evangelium Vitae award.”

Snead continued, “I am proud that the University of Notre Dame is the home for the most important and high profile award for heroes of the pro life movement … I am delighted that at a university as fortunate as Notre Dame—blessed with enormous resources, prestige, and power—that we will take an evening to honor and celebrate those who have dedicated themselves to protecting the least and most vulnerable among us.” He added, “There is no one more vulnerable than the child in the womb who has been diagnosed with Downs Syndrome.”

Snead remarked on the significance of the pro-life movement, saying, “As a civilization, we will be judged by how we care for these fragile, beautiful, and joyful children. Notre Dame’s recognition of the Jerome Lejeune Foundation, and by extension, these children, born and unborn, will be a powerful witness to a nation and world desperately in need of reminding that every member of the human family, from conception to natural death, deserves our love, support, and equal justice under law.”

Reba Luffy is a senior honors mathematics and theology double major. She just watched The Lord of the Rings for the first time and would be happy to discuss it at length. Email her at