Dr. Howard Jones, the man who successfully mastered the first American birth via in vitro fertilization, died on Friday at the age of 104. He and his wife were pioneers in American reproductive endocrinology, and the IVF birth of Elizabeth Carr in 1981 cemented their fame for their work in helping couples conceive in the laboratory.
In the United States, baby Elizabeth’s birth helped launch the fertility business. Infertile couples from all over the world flocked to get treatment at a facility the Joneses founded at Eastern Virginia in 1979, the Jones Institute for Reproductive Medicine. Doctors came to train there.
While the work of Jones forever changed the way Americans think about—and pursue—conception, the legacy of IVF remains a tarnished one. While his obituary noted that many thousands of couples that have attempted to use the technique that Jones pioneered, it failed the mention that the overall failure rate for IVF in the United States hovers at around 70 percent. The number is even higher on a global level, reaching an almost 80 percent failure rate. Also lacking is mention of the surplus of approximately one million frozen embryos that are left over from IVF procedures.
And unlike the legacy of Dr. Jones, the many thousands of couples who tried IVF and failed or the frozen embryos in the lab, their fates receive little attention in the public eye.