Dr. Liane Russell, who died in July 2019 at 95 years of age, was a scientist in the 1940s, when there were few female scientists. She was a geneticist, who made an incredible contribution, although unintentionally, to the cause of the unborn child and the future pro-life movement. She unveiled the mystery and the critical importance of the embryo in the human journey. She did so by identifying the harmful effects of radiation and chemicals on embryos and the genetic implications of such damage in the womb, which affects that person for the rest of his / her life. She also observed that the presence of the Y chromosome meant the embryo was male. Her discoveries quickly opened up new avenues of research in genetics, genetic abnormalities and our understanding and need to protect the developing embryo. In other words, she uncovered to the world the humanity of the embryo.
Liane Russell was born in Vienna, Austria to a family that fortunately cultivated her inquiring mind, acknowledged her intelligence and supported the education of women. This common sense approach to raising their daughter has benefited the entire world.
Dr. Russell’s family, which was of Jewish heritage, managed to escape Austria after its annexation by Nazi Germany in 1938, but only by relinquishing their home, the father’s company and their belongings. They ultimately settled in the United States, where Dr. Russell pursued her scientific studies and career.
Because of her discoveries, women of childbearing age worldwide are now protected from x-rays at a time when they may not even know that they are pregnant. This is because the unborn child is most vulnerable to radiation during the mother’s first seven weeks of pregnancy.
Dr. Russell made these momentous discoveries when working with more than 200,000 mice, during which she identified the stages at which specific body parts develop. She also recorded the pattern of when deformities would occur. For example, the embryos of mice that had been irradiated at the same time after conception, all developed the same foot deformity. Embryos irradiated a day later all had a different foot deformity. A third group of mice irradiated on a different day all had short tails.
Dr. Russell reasoned that developing humans in the womb would also have problems if they received radiation during a vulnerable time in the womb. As a result, she recommended that non-urgent, diagnostic X-rays be taken in the 14 days after the onset of a woman’s menstrual period when there is no ovulation, so doctors could avoid potentially causing harm to the unborn child. This recommendation has been adopted around the world.
Dr. Russell’s discoveries caused an uproar in the medical profession, especially in the specialty of radiology. Articles criticizing her discoveries were published in medical journals, denying the accuracy of her discoveries, mainly because radiologists were afraid of being sued if a child was born with a deformity. However, her studies on mammals and genetic risk have become a benchmark worldwide.
While carrying out her remarkable research, Dr. Russell also raised a family, a daughter and a son. She admitted that in having a family, “You do not go to the lab at all hours of the day and night, you do not read all the literature, and you don’t push yourself, you don’t go to the meetings that would advance you and your message spread [sic] to the [same] extent.” Despite these limitations, Dr. Russell was able to carry out her research while enjoying being a wife and mother. The entire world and millions of unborn children have been the beneficiaries of her work.