The Lie Of Freedom Versus the Truth Of Family



Dr Daniel Gajdusek

Many of the best scientists of the twentieth century were so because they tended to think outside normal patterns, to see from odd angles. Some, like Richard Feynman (safecracker, bongo drum player & painter of nudes) had eccentricities that were considered merely colorful and amusing. Some, like Noam Chomsky (eloquent political gadfly) were marginalized to minimize their threat to the status quo. And then there were ones like Alan Turing, a man whose work probably saved more lives in World War II than any other individual’s, whose sexual proclivities so threatened society it hounded him into committing suicide. Dr Daniel Carleton Gajdusek fell into that last category for his love of boys and his defense of that love.

But who was Dr. Gajdusek (pronounced GUY-dah-shek) and what did he do? Dr. Gajdusek was a virologist who won the 1976 Nobel Prize in medicine for his work on the mysterious epidemics now known as prion diseases. These involve small bits of twisted proteins that gradually cause proteins in the body to malform. While his work was mainly focused on brain diseases like Kuro and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (the human version of Mad Cow Disease), prions have been implicated in a much wider range of ailments.

For this important work he received the Nobel Prize in Physiology & Medicine in 1976. As part of the prize, Dr. Gajdusek wrote a short autobiography detailing the path his scientific explorations had taken and their role in his life. Two passages from it stand out especially:

“Today, I and my large family of adopted sons from New Guinea and Micronesia still occupy, on our frequent visits to New York city, our family home in which I was born fifty-three years ago. Here, the boys recently discovered, while installing new attic insulation, daguerreotypes and tintypes of the family taken in towns east of the Danube and in turn-of-the-century New York city and also school notebooks which once belonged to my mother, her siblings, my brother, and myself. From this home, too, we buried both of my maternal grandparents, and my father and mother. On the occasion of my pagan mother's death, the unavoidably close proximity of Slovak Catholic and Russian Orthodox churches, both named Holy Trinity, led to the confusion which resulted in burying her with ministrations of the wrong denomination, which she would have enjoyed, when I attempted to assuage, by asking the funeral director to call in the priest, the pious Roman Catholic relatives of my irreverent father, at whose earlier funeral the Slovak priest had declined to officiate.

“I had not counted on my captivation with clinical pediatrics. Children fascinated me, and their medical problems (complicated by the effect of variables of varying immaturity, growth, and maturation upon every clinical entity that beset them) seemed to offer more challenge than adult medicine. I lived and worked within the walls of Boston Children's Hospital through much of medical school. Thereafter, I started my postgraduate specialty training in clinical pediatrics, which I carried through to Specialty Board qualification, while also working in the laboratory of Michael Heidelberger at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, while at Caltech, and while with John Enders on postgraduate work at Harvard. I have never abandoned my clinical interests, particularly in pediatrics and neurology, which were nurtured by a group of inspiring bedside teachers: Mark Altschuler, Louis K. Diamond, William Ladd, Frank Ingraham, Sidney Gellis, and Canon Ely at Harvard; Rustin McIntosh, Hattie Alexander, Dorothy Anderson, and Richard Day at Babies Hospital, Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center in New York; Katie Dodd, Ashley Weech, Joe Warkany, and Sam Rappaport at Cincinnati Children's Hospital, and Ted Woodward of Baltimore.1

Dr. Klitzman, a professor of psychiatry at Columbia University, wrote in “The Trembling Mountain,” -an account of his time as a graduate student under Dr. Gajdusek in New Guinea – that his brain “worked faster and at a higher level than anyone’s I’ve ever met.”

Dr. Gajdusek was born on Sept. 9, 1923. He grew up in Yonkers and went to the University of Rochester and Harvard Medical School. From 1970 until 1997, he headed the brain studies laboratory at the National Institute of Neurological Disease and Stroke, which is part of the National Institutes of Health.

As mentioned in the autobiography, over the course of his research in the South Pacific, Gajdusek had brought 56 male children from New Guinea and Micronesia back to live with him in Maryland to better their education. He was later accused by one of these, now an adult man, of sexually molesting him as a child.

Gajdusek was charged with child molestation in April 1996, based on incriminating entries in his laboratory notes, statements from one son and his own admission. He pled guilty to a single charge in 1997 and, under a plea bargain, was sentenced to 19 months in jail. After his release in 1998, he was permitted to serve his 5-year probation in Europe. It was almost certainly his fame and wide circle of influential friends which kept the punishment as light as it was. Thereafter he divided his time between Paris, Amsterdam and Tromsų, Norway (which is above the Arctic Circle and dark nearly 24 hours a day in winter – he said the isolation let him get more work done.)

He remained unrepentant to the end about his sexual relationships with his adopted sons, Dr. Klitzman said. He considered American law prudish and pointed out that sex with young men was normal in the cultures he studied and in the classic Greek societies at the foundation of Western civilization.

His children were all legally adopted, his legal assistant, Dorrie Runman said. He put several through college and graduate or medical school. Several of them, now in their 50s, supported him during his legal troubles, while only one testified against him. Of course, in present day America all of this becomes evidence of how insidiously he “groomed” his “victims”. It would be unthinkable to even contemplate that he actually loved them and genuinely wanted the best for them.

Dr. Gajdusek was 85 and had long had congestive heart failure. He died in Tromsų, Norway, working and visiting colleagues. Ms. Runman (who was previously married to one of his sons, John Runman) said Dr. Gajdusek’s survivors included “his adopted sons and daughters, including Yavine Borimaand Jesse Mororui-Gajdusek in the United States, and two nephews, Karl Lawrence Gajdusek and Mark Terry.”

We hope that someday soon the world comes to recognize the great good Dr. Gajdusek did, not just through research, but for 56 boys who had a much better life because of him. They prove his heart was just as great as his mind. Fare well, doctor.

1 From Les Prix Nobel en 1976, Editor Wilhelm Odelberg, [Nobel Foundation], Stockholm, 1977
Entire document at: http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/medicine/laureates/1976/gajdusek-autobio.html


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