Called to Be: Health & Environment

Title:A partnership for good

Author: Jane Varner Malhotra
Date Published: April 12, 2024
a man and a woman with binoculars look for birds in bright autumn foliage
Photo: Lisa Helfert

How nurse-bioethicist Christine Grady (N’74, G’93) and her husband, new faculty member Anthony Fauci, live their commitment to public service, health, and each other

In May 2023, the World Health Organization declared an end to the COVID-19 public health emergency. It marked the official close to a difficult chapter in human history, with nearly seven million deaths from the virus, and immeasurable hardship that impacted people the world over.

Countless Hoyas played a part in pandemic preparedness, biomedical research, and critical health care delivery during this time.

In particular, two individuals helped shape the public health response in the U.S. and they happen to be married to each other. They are double Hoya Christine Grady (N’74, G’93), who heads bioethics at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and her husband, Anthony Fauci, who recently retired as director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at NIH and is now Distinguished University Professor at Georgetown.

After more than 50 years with the NIH, Fauci had tempting offers to share his expertise at leading institutions across the country. In July 2023 he officially joined the faculty of Georgetown University School of Medicine’s Department of Medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases, as well as the McCourt School of Public Policy.

Fauci, an immunologist, infectious disease researcher, and advisor to seven U.S. presidents, deeply values his education at Jesuit schools. Grady and Fauci were married in 1985 in Dahlgren Chapel, and they celebrated the births of their three children at Georgetown’s hospital.

Grady, an accomplished scientist and nurse bioethicist, studied biology at the School of Nursing and earned her Ph.D. in bioethics at Georgetown. Known internationally for her thought leadership on ethical issues in clinical research and clinical care, she is a senior investigator at the NIH, where she serves as chief of their Clinical Center’s Department of Bioethics and head of the department’s Section on Human Subjects Research. From 2010–2017 she was a member of the President’s Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues.

Staying connected to her alma mater, Grady is currently a faculty affiliate at Georgetown’s Kennedy Institute of Ethics. She has contributed extensively to biomedical and bioethics literature, on topics such as informed consent in clinical research, measuring moral distress, and the ethics of vaccine development.

As dedicated public servants and leaders in the national and global health arena, Grady and Fauci share a deep commitment to the common good. In their personal and professional lives, how do their individual views and expertise inform one another? How do they support each other while retaining their individual identities, especially after the challenges of the last four years? What role do Jesuit values play in shaping their work?

a man and a woman pose by a black fence outside
Photo: Lisa Helfert

Georgetown Health Magazine sat down with the doctors to talk about their partnership—where they’ve been, what’s ahead as they deepen their connection to Georgetown, and what they do for fun.

Dr. Grady, you were a Georgetown student in the early 1970s. What memory stands out from your time on the Hilltop?

Christine Grady (CG): It was a tumultuous time in the world. During my first year, May Day brought Vietnam War protests all over the city and the campus basically shut down, surrounded by the National Guard. I went with friends to protest downtown and had trouble getting back on campus. Some classmates were worried about participating because it was exam week. But in those days it seemed like there were bigger, more important things to do.

It was an extraordinary experience—not only the demonstrations themselves, but on campus they set up soup kitchens on the lawn behind the dorms. People were in DC from all over the country so we were serving soup, they were sleeping in tents on the lawn…

Anthony Fauci (AF): I was a young physician at NIH in Bethesda at the time and was involved with helping to drive an ambulance around, picking up people who got tear-gassed.

CG: We didn’t know each other at all.

AF: But we were both here.

CG: At the School of Nursing there was a lot of change in the way we learned about being nurses. The new curriculum had a more holistic, more autonomous focus with interesting faculty role models. Because this activism surrounded us, everybody was very engaged in these curriculum discussions.

When did your paths cross?

CG: Almost 10 years after I graduated from Georgetown, I was a new nurse at the NIH. He had already been there for 15 years. I had just returned from spending two years in Brazil with Project HOPE, and a Brazilian patient with vasculitis was in my unit, so we spent a lot of time chatting in Portuguese. He had been there a month and was homesick. He said, “Can you convince my doctors to send me home?” So I called a meeting with the two fellows and the attending—Tony.

Tony has a style that’s very serious and professional. He said the patient could go home, if he promised to do his dressings every day, keep his leg elevated, and take it easy. So I told that to Pedro, and he said, with a very straight face, in Portuguese, “I can’t do that. I’ve been in this hospital forever. I’m gonna go to the beach every day and go dancing at night.”

So I thought, okay, now what do I do? I turned to them and said, “He says he’ll do exactly what you said.” So they discharged him.

Two days later, Tony comes to me on rounds, and says, “I’d like to see you in my office.” And I thought, whoops! Caught. But when I went to his office, he said, “How’d you like to go out to dinner?”

AF: Something we could not do today!

CG: So that’s our origin story.

AF: Chris has phenomenal clinical judgment. She figured the psychological advantage of the patient going home outweighed the disadvantage of him possibly being too active.

CG: He really wanted to go home. His recovery was going to be long. I knew that if he was in pain, or if he needed dressings, he wasn’t going to dance all night. He was kind of teasing.

How does bioethics factor in both of your worlds? Is it your dinner conversation, or is it off the table when you’re home?

AF: The way I have guided my career is that you maintain the highest level of integrity and ethical conduct in the care of your patient, which should be the underlying driving force of every physician. But my sense of ethics was “the instinct to do the right thing.”

As a professional ethicist, Chris opened my eyes to the complexity of the discipline of ethics. The nuances and the questions you ask—that I learned from her.

CG: As a practicing nurse, there were interesting issues that I ran into, complex decisions and actions that I didn’t know were bioethics. As I started to learn and think more about it, I realized that there is an area of gray in a lot of what we do in life. It’s not like you know what to do right away.

Over the last 30 years, health care professionals think more about bioethics. There are also more resources available to help providers.

We talk about bioethics at home. But we also talk about science. His world and my world have enough overlap that there are things that we do talk about quite a bit. But it’s not the only thing we talk about. We also talk about politics and the weather and the neighbors and birds—

AF: We love birds!

CG: Bioethics is definitely something that comes into our conversation often. Every once in a while, there’ll be a situation at work, and I come home and say, What do you think about this? And he has some good insights, things that I hadn’t thought about. And he does that too.

AF: Sometimes I ask about a scientific thing. She’s a pretty good scientist.

CG (laughing): Pretty good.

AF: She’s internationally known as an ethicist, but she understands science. She asks the right questions. She never lets you fast-talk her to the next step. She says, Time out. What are you talking about? Explain that.

Often I say, Here’s where I want to get to. But before I get there, she’ll ask three questions. It slows you down and gets you to really think about what you’re asking.

CG: That’s how I do bioethics, too. One of the best ways to have conversations with people about what the ethical issues are is to ask questions. The questions help us understand what the situation is. It’s a useful methodology.

a man and a woman transfer a cake to a plate
Despite their extremely busy and stressful careers, the couple makes time for fun—cooking, birdwatching, fishing—a lesson learned from their three children. “They have taught us that you can work hard and play hard,” Grady says. “We have a good life and we support each other.” Photo: Lisa Helfert

When did you earn your Ph.D.?

CG: I started in 1986 and finished in 1993.

AF: By the way, she was doing three full-time jobs at the time, getting a Ph.D., working at the NIH, and raising three children.

Given everything you two have been through in recent years, how do you manage?

CG: I will admit, there are moments that are hard. But I think for the most part, we have a good life, we have a great relationship, and we support each other. I couldn’t have gotten through these last few years, maybe the last few decades, without Tony. We have wonderful children and friends, and work that is intellectually and emotionally stimulating and satisfying.

AF: There’s no way I would have gotten through the stressful early years of HIV, to Ebola and anthrax, Zika and multiple different presidents that I worked with, and then the last three years of COVID—it would have been impossible without her. With credible death threats and harassment, it disrupts the normality of your life. It’s not normal, nor does it feel good, to have armed federal agents with you wherever you go. That’s been a terrible stress on Chris and on me, but if I didn’t have her, it would have been almost impossible.

One thing that’s really important in the story of our relationship is that she’s one of the most respected ethicists in the country. But in the early years, she didn’t do a lot of things that would have hastened her recognition, because she was doing things like being the Brownie mother and filling in as a substitute in school when teachers got sick, or taking the kids to every crew and track meet.

CG: I loved every minute of it. I don’t regret a single thing.

AF: She was doing that at the same time as she was turning down offers of the stepwise academic career that would have gotten her to here 10 years earlier.

CG: Though I would have missed out on a lot.

AF: I think our kids turned out really good, mostly because of Chris.

What’s something that your kids have taught you?

CG: They have taught us that you can work hard and play hard. Some of that is in reaction to watching work, work, work and not enough play. Also our kids are others-centric—they pay attention to other people and the world around them.

AF: You said it well. They are unselfish and not ego-involved.

a man and a woman pose on a boat with their fish on a line
Photo: Lisa Helfert

Where do you have diverging perspectives?

(here they exchange knowing glances and laugh)

AF: There are no substantial divergent things in our fundamental life principles.

CG: I think that’s true.

AF: There are peripheral things…

CG: For example, there may be people I do not like because of their political stances and ideology or what they’ve done. And Tony, sometimes, if he knows them, says, Oh, but they’re fundamentally a nice person. And I’m like, Okay, well, what does that mean, when they do these things that are bad for the world?

AF: I tend to look at the good in everyone.

CG: I do, too.

AF: Another divergence is I am obsessive about being on time. And she usually hangs loose. Like the other night, we were supposed to go sign some books at a big gala. And I said be home at 5:30 so we could get there at 6:00.

CG: And the traffic was terrible!

AF (winking): And she stopped off and had a beer with some of her friends…

CG (laughing): I did not! I do prioritize having fun. I take trips, I go places with friends.

AF: I used to be that way, before I got this disease that when you have an infinite amount of work, you have to put in an infinite amount of time. I got that when I started taking care of HIV patients in 1981. There was so much to do that taking time off was a bad thing.

What about during the pandemic?

CG: He was so darn busy that for a year or more he hardly knew what day it was.

AF: She saved me. One night she said, That’s enough. You’ve got to drink water, you’ve got to eat, you’ve got to get more than four hours of sleep. She really took charge.

What are you both anticipating about your connection to Georgetown going forward?

AF: The Jesuit value of service for others deepened during my formative years at Regis High School and at Holy Cross, and for Chris at Georgetown. When I decided to step down from the NIH, I thought, While I’m still healthy and sharp, what can I offer to society? I believe I can inspire younger people to get involved in science, medicine, public health, and hopefully public service.

CG: When this seemed like the right choice for him, I was all for it. The Jesuit values are consistent with who he is and what he wants to do.

What do you do for fun?

AF: This may sound too romantic, but just being with each other is fun to me. That means walking, watching birds, discovering and learning about birds. Doing puzzles at night together. Watching movies…although she falls asleep most of the time.

CG: We also love to dance. We don’t get enough dancing in.

AF: We love to dance.

CG: We like to swim. He likes to fish.

AF: She doesn’t like to fish as much as I do.

CG: But I like to go along and be outside.

AF: We also get invited to events with interesting people and almost never do it without each other. We feel this humility—we are very thankful for the opportunities. Georgetown is a place where people of all faiths, including no faith, are nurtured and encouraged to explore this aspect of our lives. What does this mean to you as scientists?

AF: I won’t speak for Chris, but for me Georgetown is a place that reflects the principles I learned from my parents and which were fortified at Jesuit schools: integrity, honesty, caring for others, and contributing to society. I’ve lived my entire life that way, and I feel fortunate now to spend the last years of my professional career at an institution that is founded on those principles—

CG: And embodies them. The only one I would add to your list is community. Georgetown has a community of people who have like-minded values. I hope students treasure the moments they have there, to be part of a learning community, a service community, a community of people who care about the world.

Drs. Grady and Fauci's wedding in Dahlgren chapel at Georgetown University.
Drs. Grady and Fauci’s wedding in Dahlgren chapel at Georgetown University.

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