Doctor championed use of laparoscopy

Times Staff Writer

Dr. Jordan M. Phillips, a doctor of obstetrics and gynecology who championed the use of laparoscopy for gynecological diagnosis and surgery when it was still a new procedure in the United States, has died. He was 85.

Phillips, who founded Medical Books for China International to provide textbooks to medical schools and libraries there, died Tuesday at his home in Downey. The cause was cancer, according to Tim Page, his former son-in-law.

Phillips became interested in laparoscopy in the 1960s when the surgical procedure was being developed by several doctors in Europe. Minimally invasive, it allows a tiny camera to see inside the abdomen through a small incision.

Inspired by the possible applications for gynecology, Phillips founded the American Assn. of Gynecologic Laparoscoptics in 1971, to teach the fundamentals of the procedure to practicing doctors. He invited three other gynecologists to join him as founding members. There are now about 4,000 members.


The group’s inaugural meeting was held in Las Vegas in 1972. Doctors from almost 50 countries attended. The featured speakers were leading laparoscopic surgeons Patrick Steptoe of England and Hans Frangenheim of Germany. Frangenheim’s demonstration of how to inspect human ovaries by laparoscopy ended with a standing ovation. Most of the doctors in the room had never seen the procedure.

“Starting the organization was one of Jordan Phillips’ great contributions,” Dr. Louis Keith, a founding member of the group who is on the faculty of the Northwestern University medical school, said in an interview last week.

Gradually, medical schools were influenced. “When we started the association, laparoscopy was not part of residency training for doctors,” said Dr. Richard Soderstrom, another founding member of the association, who is on the faculty of the medical school at the University of Washington in Seattle. “But it is now,” he said.

The surgery is used to remove ovarian cysts and ectopic pregnancies, and to tie fallopian tubes (a form of sterilization), among other gynecological procedures.


Phillips served as chairman of the association’s board of directors for 30 years and traveled to more than 100 countries, teaching medical students and doctors laparoscopy and performing surgeries. On a trip to China with his wife, Mary, in 1979, he learned that most medical books there had been destroyed during the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s.

He and his wife founded Medical Books for China International, which continues to operate. The organization collects donated textbooks and pamphlets and ships them to China, where they are distributed to medical libraries in schools and hospitals. Nearly 1 million texts have been shipped so far.

Phillips and his wife made about 80 trips to China, most recently in 2006. He received several awards from China’s ministry of public health for his contributions to the country’s medical services. He was also nominated by the Chinese government for a Nobel Peace Prize in the 1980s.

After retiring from his clinical practice in 1975, he became a volunteer teacher in the department of obstetrics and gynecology at UC Irvine and later became a professor emeritus in the department. He also helped the university establish an exchange program with faculty and students from medical schools in several cities in China.


Phillips was born June 29, 1923, in Boston. He graduated from Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass., and relocated to Los Angeles, where he earned a doctor of osteopathy degree from the College of Osteopathic Physicians and Surgeons in 1946. The school was renamed the California College of Medicine in 1962 and Phillips was granted a medical degree as a result. Five years later, California College of Medicine became the medical school at UC Irvine.

Phillips was married twice. He is survived by his second wife, Mary Zoe Phillips, stepdaughter Vanessa Weekes Page and three stepgrandchildren.

A funeral service is planned for 2 p.m. Monday at Hillside Memorial Park, 6001 W. Centinela Ave., Los Angeles. Contributions in Phillips’ name can be made to Medical Books for China International, 13021 E. Florence Ave., Santa Fe Springs, CA 90670-4505.