A Very Personal Perspective on the Inspiring Life and Career of Dr. Howard W. Jones, Jr.
Often called the “father of IVF,” Dr. Howard (as he was known by all who trained under him) and his late wife and career partner, “Dr. Georgeanna” was an ethical visionary as well as a medical pioneer in his lifelong approach to reproductive medicine.
Remarkably, many of those contributions occurred after his and Dr. Georgeanna’s mandatory retirement from Johns Hopkins in 1978, after their decision to move to Norfolk, Virginia to join the fledgling Ob/Gyn department at the newly established Eastern Virginia Medical School (EVMS). Arriving as the world’s first IVF baby, Louise Brown, was born in the UK, they quickly established the Jones Institute of Reproductive Medicine at EVMS, where the first US IVF baby, Elizabeth Carr, was born in 1981.
In 1986, I had the privilege of meeting both Drs. Jones, and over the next 3 decades to work closely with Dr. Howard. In 1984, he had urged the American Society of Reproductive Medicine (ASRM, then AFS) to create an Ethics Committee following his and Dr. Georgeanna’s invitation to the Vatican to advise the pope on the ARTs; named as its 1st chair, he oversaw the committee’s inaugural publication, “Ethical Considerations of the New Assisted Reproductive Technologies.” That document’s definition of an IVF embryo as a unique entity “deserving of special respect” due to its unique ability to form a human being was adopted by the first appellate US court decision resolving a frozen embryo dispute, Davis v. Davis (Tenn. 1992), and continues to shape the legal frameworks for the ARTs today.
In 1990, as the novel Davis dispute began to move through the courts with growing media coverage, Dr. Howard encouraged my decision to create a legal column for the medical community explaining how the law was both reacting to and shaping the ARTS. “Legally Speaking: a column highlighting recent court decisions affecting the Assisted Reproductive Technologies and the families they create,” has run continuously in ASRM News since then.
Over the next two decades, Dr. Howard and I co-authored a number of articles, and in 2010 published our book Legal Conceptions: the evolving law and policy of Assisted Reproductive Technologies (Johns Hopkins 2010) (his tenth of thirteen). On what became my annual trips to Norfolk to lecture to EVMS embryology masters students, we would have lively discussions about novel, thought-provoking ART issues large and small. His baritone voice- in the lecture hall, afterwards at his desk, or over the phone between visits– always signaled the beginning of a fascinating, imaginative, and wide-ranging debate over critical, multi-disciplinary issues surrounding the ARTs.
In 2015, as it became apparent Dr. Howard could not live forever, the concept of Jones Rounds came to me and I spent two days in Norfolk interviewing him, striving to capture his remarkable life and legacy. Jones Rounds incorporates some of that footage- reflecting, in Dr. Howard’s own voice, his unparalleled curiosity and lifelong passion for learning and advancing all aspects of the ARTs.
Until his death, Dr. Howard was a passionate, impactful voice on emerging legal, ethical and policy perspectives surrounding the ARTs – including the serious health risks of multi-fetal pregnancies, insurance coverage for infertility treatments, and the impact on IVF of so-called “personhood” initiatives. As an undergraduate student of Robert Frost at Amherst College, he was fond of reciting his poetry, including one particular poem and a stanza that has always stood out:
“…Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”
Robert Frost, 1916
Dr. Jones received his BA degree from Amherst College, his MD degree from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and honorary degrees from the University of Cordoba, Old Dominion University, Amherst College, the University of Madrid, and Eastern Virginia Medical School. He was the recipient of the Medal of the College of France, the Distinguished Service Award of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, and was an honorary member of over 20 foreign scientific societies, including the Fellowship ad eundem of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Scientists from Europe, Africa, Australia, Asia, and South America traveled to the Jones Institute to learn from Drs. Howard and Georgeanna Jones and their colleagues, and many of today’s leaders in IVF were mentored there.
Throughout his remarkable career, Dr. Jones was instrumental not only in exploring cutting edge medical developments, but in recognizing the need for and developing ethical standards for the assisted reproductive technologies. He created and held key positions in advancing those standards, and was committed to interdisciplinary dialogue and efforts to advance those standards. His legacy as a medical pioneer and an ethical visionary continues today.
For myself, having had the “less traveled” privilege of knowing and working with Dr. Howard, it has, indeed, made all the difference. I hope Jones Rounds will give future ART professionals a small opportunity to share in that remarkable legacy.