AP, January 31
San Francisco — Carl Djerassi, the chemist widely considered the father of the birth control pill, has died.
Djerassi died of complications of cancer in his San Francisco home, Stanford University spokesman Dan Stober said. He was 91.
Djerassi, a professor emeritus of chemistry at Stanford, was most famous for leading a research team in Mexico City that in 1951 developed norethindrone, a synthetic molecule that became a key component of the first birth control pill.
“The pill” as it came to be known radically transformed sexual practices and women’s lives. The pill gave women more control over their fertility than they had ever had before and permanently put doctors — who previously didn’t see contraceptives as part of their job — in the birth control picture.
In his book, “This Man’s Pill,” Djerassi said the invention also changed his life, making him more interested in how science affects society.
In 1969, he submitted a public policy article about the global implications of U.S. contraceptive research, according to the Stanford News Service. In 1970, he published another article about the feasibility of a birth control pill for men.
“The thoughts behind these two public policy articles had convinced me that politics, rather than science, would play the dominant role in shaping the future of human birth control,” he wrote.
“He also is the only person, to my knowledge, to receive from President Nixon the National Medal of Science and to be named on Nixon’s blacklist in the same year,” Zare added.
SF Gate: Stanford chemist who developed birth control pill dead at 91
Mr. Djerassi was not humble about his role in the invention. He wrote three autobiographies, including “The Pill, Pygmy Chimps and Degas’ Horse,” “In Retrospect: From the Pill to the Pen,” and, on the 50th anniversary of oral contraception, released a book called “This Man’s Pill,” but his immodesty was well-earned, said colleagues and peers.
Mr. Djerassi had a compelling and lifelong interest, both as a scientist and as an artist, in issues of “individual agency,” and he took pride in the social and cultural shifts that were brought on by the Pill, said Darney. He got to know Mr. Djerassi well during the 1980s, when they worked to bring RU-486 — a drug now called mifepristone that is used to terminate pregnancies — to the United States.
“Carl was interested particularly in individual freedom and self-determination, and believed that all of us, women included, should have that opportunity,” Darney said. “He saw birth control and access to abortion as agents of that opportunity.”
Statement of the Family of Dr. Carl Djerassi, January 30, 2015
Dr. Carl Djerassi, renowned scientist, author, and philanthropist, died peacefully, surrounded by family and loved ones, in his home in San Francisco, California on Friday, January 30, 2015. Dr. Djerassi’s death resulted from complications due to cancer. He was 91. His life and career included remarkable productivity and achievement in science, academia, and the arts, as well as personal tragedy in his expulsion from his childhood home following the Nazi Anschluss in 1938 and the death of his daughter in 1978.
Dr. Djerassi is survived by his son, Dale Djerassi, stepdaughter Leah Middlebrook, and grandson, Alexander M. Djerassi. He will be missed dearly.