When I read the obituary of Carl Djerassi, a chemist and writer who died this week at age 91, a series of “what ifs” came into my head.
What if he and his parents hadn’t escaped the Nazis?
What if he didn’t write a letter to First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, seeking her assistance in procuring funds to attend college?
What if the first school, Tarkio College in Missouri, didn’t close and he didn’t transfer to Kenyon College, then an all men’s school in Gambier, Ohio?
What if he didn’t pursue a chemistry degree?
Djerassi was among a team of scientists credited with discovering the birth control pill. Like so many products in medicine cabinets, most people don’t know the names behind the inventions, but take for granted they’re there. The birth control pill, now considered commonplace, had a rocky beginning, including protests about its use and distribution.
I met Djerassi in 2008 when his play Taboos opened in New York.
In an interview for Education Update, Djerassi shared his views on the role of science and art.
Here are excerpts:
“For Carl Djerassi, the chemist, scientific discoveries are tangible and transparent. For Carl Djerassi, the writer, the ramifications of these discoveries pose challenging questions…”
“…Taboos addresses the complications that arise when conception occurs in the laboratory, not the bedroom. Featuring a lesbian couple and an infertile fundamentalist Christian couple who all want to have a child, the play questions what defines a parent, and what creates a family…”
“…The greatest cultural innovations of the last 40 years were the invention of the Pill and invitro-fertilization,” he said. “These gave us sex without reproduction, and reproduction without sexual intercourse. No one can say this is sinful; the genie has already escaped. Opponents can argue all they want…”
Thank you, Eleanor Roosevelt for helping this young refugee get an education.
Thank you, Carl Djerassi for changing the lives of women worldwide.