Alexis Carrel

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Alexis Carrel : biography

June 28, 1873 – November 5, 1944

Due to his close proximity with Jacques Doriot’s fascist Parti Populaire Français (PPF) during the 1930s and his role in implementing eugenics policies during Vichy France, he was accused after the Liberation of collaborationism, but died before the trial.

Carrel spent his life promoting spiritualism, though he did not embrace the Catholicism of his youth. In 1939 he met with Trappist monk Alexis Presse on a recommendation. Though Carrel was skeptical about meeting with a priest Presse ended up having a profound influence on the rest of Carrel’s life. He summoned Presse to administer the Catholic Sacraments on his death bed in November 1944.

The French Foundation for the Study of Human Problems

In 1937, Carrel joined Jean Coutrot’s Centre d’Etudes des Problèmes Humains – Coutrot’s aim was to develop what he called an "economic humanism" through "collective thinking." In 1941, through connections to the cabinet of Vichy France president Philippe Pétain (specifically, French industrial physicians André Gros and Jacques Ménétrier) he went on to advocate for the creation of the Fondation Française pour l’Etude des Problèmes Humains (French Foundation for the Study of Human Problems) which was created by decree of the Vichy regime in 1941, and where he served as ‘regent’.

The foundation was at the origin of the October 11, 1946 law, enacted by the Provisional Government of the French Republic (GPRF), which institutionalized the field of occupational medicine. It worked on demographics (Robert Gessain, Paul Vincent, Jean Bourgeois-Pichat), on economics, (François Perroux), on nutrition (Jean Sutter), on habitation (Jean Merlet) and on the first opinion polls (Jean Stoetzel). "The foundation was chartered as a public institution under the joint supervision of the ministries of finance and public health. It was given financial autonomy and a budget of forty million francs—roughly one franc per inhabitant—a true luxury considering the burdens imposed by the German Occupation on the nation’s resources. By way of comparison, the whole Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) was given a budget of fifty million francs."

The Foundation made many positive accomplishments during its time. Yet it was also behind the origin of the December 16, 1942 Act inventing the "prenuptial certificate", which had to precede any marriage and was supposed, after a biological examination, to insure the "good health" of the spouses, in particular in regard to sexually transmitted diseases (STD) and "life hygiene" (sic). The institute also conceived the "scholar book" ("livret scolaire"), which could be used to record students’ grades in the French secondary schools, and thus classify and select them according to scholastic performance.

According to Gwen Terrenoire, writing in Eugenics in France (1913-1941) : a review of research findings, "The foundation was a pluridisciplinary centre that employed around 300 researchers (mainly statisticians, psychologists, physicians) from the summer of 1942 to the end of the autumn of 1944. After the liberation of Paris, Carrel was suspended by the Minister of Health; he died in November 1944, but the Foundation itself was "purged", only to reappear in a short time as the Institut national d’études démographiques (INED) that is still active."Gwen Terrenoire, "Eugenics in France (1913-1941): a review of research findings", Joint Programmatic Commission UNESCO-ONG Science and Ethics, 2003 Although Carrel himself was dead most members of his team did move to the INED, which was led by famous demographist Alfred Sauvy, who coined the expression "Third World". Others joined Robert Debré’s "Institut national d’hygiène" (National Hygiene Institute), which later became the INSERM.

Alexis Carrel and Lourdes

In 1902 Alexis Carrel went from being a sceptic of the visions and miracles reported at Lourdes to being a believer in spiritual cures after experiencing a healing of Marie Bailly that he could not explain.Rev. Stanley Jaki The Catholic journal Le nouvelliste reported that she named him as the prime witness of her cure. Alexis Carrel refused to discount a supernatural explanation and steadfastly reiterated his beliefs, even writing a book describing his experience,Alexis Carrel, The Voyage to Lourdes (New York, Harper & Row, 1939). though it was not published until four years after his death. This was a detriment to his career and reputation among his fellow doctors, and feeling he had no future in academic medicine in France, he immigrated to Canada with the intention of farming and raising cattle. After a brief period, he accepted an appointment at the University of Chicago and two years later at the Rockefeller Institute for the Study of Medicine.