The Scotsman - United Kingdom ; 06-Jul-2000 12:00:00 am ; 360 words

CARL Djerassi is relatively unknown outside the academic world, but he is responsible for one of the most amazing introductions to medicine.

The professor invented the contraceptive pill and, in doing so, was credited with giving millions their sexual freedom at a time when many looked on the concept as a taboo.

And yesterday, he was awarded an honorary degree of Doctor of Science by the University of Aberdeen. He said: "It is very special to get recognition in a country I have considered my second home for 15 years.

"This is my first honorary degree I received in the UK; it is a fantastic feeling. I feel exactly the same as anyone else receiving a degree would feel, especially as I had to do no work to achieve mine."

Prof Djerassi was born in Vienna, Austria, in 1923 and moved to America, where he studied at Kenyon College and the University of Wisconsin.

Prof Djerassi also shared the invention of pyribenzamine, one of the first antihistamines, but is best known as leader of the team which first synthesised a practical oral contraceptive.

He said: "October next year will be the 50th chemical birthday of the contraceptive pill. The concept was based on the work of Austrian chemist Ludwig Haberlandt, who realised that there was a natural contraceptive substance within human beings.

"I have been called 'the father of the pill', but, because of the actual contribution I made, I should be called the mother of the pill. I am a chemist, and any chemist is a mother. A biologist is the father and a midwife is the practitioner."

Prof Djerassi admits that not everyone even today welcomes the contraceptive pill, but he claimed it did make a huge difference to the lives of millions of women throughout the world.

He said: "When people say that the pill is controversial, they are referring to two things. There is the moral aspect, but then there is also the issue of side-effects. Everything has side-effects, and through increased research the composition of he pill has changed.

"What people forget is that the pill saves life; it prevents ovarian cancer, which is one of the most dangerous forms of the disease. It is not a black and white issue, it is a light grey issue."

Prof Djerassi recently closed his Stanford University research laboratory and plans to continue teaching and writing. He lives in San Francisco with his wife, Diane Middlebrook, an English professor.

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