Remembering Adrienne Asch

Posted by Marcy Darnovsky November 21, 2013
Biopolitical Times
Adrienne Asch

Adrienne Asch, bioethicist, scholar, and disability rights activist, died Wednesday morning at her home in New York City. Online tributes from her colleagues, students, and friends attest to the wide and deep impact she had on those who knew her work, and especially on those who were fortunate enough to know her personally.

Adrienne’s work and thinking about prenatal selection technologies and practices, a perspective on them grounded in both disability rights and reproductive rights, and what she termed markets in “genes and gestation” exerted a strong influence here at the Center for Genetics and Society. As one colleague put it, “Adrienne challenged our misconceptions, deepened our understanding, and inspired us to more inclusive perspectives.”

Adrienne was professor of bioethics and Director of the Center for Ethics at Yeshiva University. Yeshiva president Richard Joel linked to the school's announcement of her death with the tweet, "Every so often, there comes a searching person, a loving teacher, an ethical dreamer. Such was Adrienne Asch."

Two especially influential books that Adrienne co-edited are Prenatal Testing and Disability Rights (Georgetown University Press, 2000) and The Double-Edged Helix: Social Implications of Genetics in a Diverse Society (Johns Hopkins University Press 2002).

Adrienne was an opening plenary speaker at CGS’s 2010 Tarrytown Meeting. Her brief comments there, available on YouTube and below, showcase both her keen insight and the graciousness that she always tried – and often managed – to bring to discussions of intellectually and emotionally challenging issues. Here are a few roughly transcribed excerpts: 

I don’t want to assume that all of us share everything I’m going to say. I hope part of what we’ll do is figure out what we share and what we don’t, and how to work with what we do share and how to deal with our differences.

Many of us here have spent considerable time trying to argue against what we see as dangers of extreme parental selectivity, or of markets in reproductive labor and genetic materials. Here I want to suggest three concerns for group discussion: a concern about selection [in which I include adoption, gamete selection and prenatal testing], a concern about markets – even if those markets don’t include selection – and a concern about the frequent dismissal of what are termed “symbolic harms.”

We have a difficult task: how to find the shared values and language to reach our philosophical opponents, and the millions of people in this country and worldwide who haven’t considered these questions at all. Why do we, and why should the rest of society, care about symbolic harms – and why are they more than symbolic? 

 Adrienne Asch at The Tarrytown Meeting, July 2012

Thanks to former CGS program associate Brendan Parent for sending a list of organizations to which you can donate in Adrienne's honor:

  • Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, Berkeley CA
  • National Federation of the Blind, Baltimore MD
  • ACLU, New York NY
  • The Hastings Center
  • Swarthmore College
  • PALS Children's Choir, Brookline MA
  • Children's Defense Fund, Washington DC
  • Rabbis for Human Rights, Jerusalem Israel
  • National Havurah Committee, Philadelphia PA