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Adrienne Asch Remembered

The Hastings Center staff and board of directors are saddened by the passing of Adrienne Asch, PhD, on November 19.  A Hastings Center Fellow, Asch was director of the Center for Ethics at Yeshiva University and the Edward and Robin Milstein Professor of Bioethics.

Asch participated in several Hastings Center projects, most recently as a member of the working group that produced The Hastings Center Guidelines for Decisions on Life-Sustaining Treatment and Care Near the End of Life  (2013). She was also a working group member of a Hastings Center project on ethical controversies in the use of surgery and other technologies to normalize children who appear atypical in some way. Her essay, “Appearance-Altering Surgery, Children’s Sense of Self, and Parental Love,” appeared in Surgically Shaping Children: Technology, Ethics, and the Pursuit of Normality (2006), a book that came out of that project.

“She challenged us to imagine a world where we were all less ‘distracted by difference’ and more open to recognizing the myriad, radically different forms that human flourishing can take,” said Erik Parens, a senior research scholar at The Hastings Center who worked with Asch on the surgically shaping children project and other research and publications.

Asch’s work was devoted to the ethical, political, psychological, and social implications of human reproduction and the family. She trained as a psychoanalyst and was a disability rights theorist who lived with blindness from birth. In addition to her many articles and book chapters, she was the co-editor ofThe Double-Edged Helix: Social Implications of Genetics in a Diverse Society (2004) and co-editor with Parens of Prenatal Testing and Disability Rights (2000)

“She was fiercely committed to defending the rights of all human beings, and perhaps especially to defending the rights of children with disabilities,” Parens continued. “As she put it in one of her most cited papers, ‘If we believed that the world was a problem to the child and not the child a problem to the world, we might be better able to imagine how raising child with a disability could give much the same gratification as raising another child who did not start life with a disabling condition.’

“Adrienne knew that she wasn’t always right, and she knew that she wasn’t even always ‘nice.’ But she always spoke the truth as best she understood it and she always fought for justice as best she understood it. She has, far too early, left our midst, but her powerful challenges to us remain.”