Mourning the Loss of Alumna Adrienne Asch, Distinguished Disabilities Scholar

Adrienne Asch giving lecture at Yeshiva University

Adrienne Asch, who received her master’s degree from the School of Social Work in 1973 and a PhD in social psychology from Teacher’s College. passed away on November 19 at her home in Manhattan. She was 67.

An accomplished scholar, Dr. Asch was the director of the Center for Ethics and the Edward and Robin Milstein Professor of Bioethics at Yeshiva University in Manhattan.   She had also taught courses at the Wurzweiler School of Social Work, Cardozo School of Law, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Boston University School of Social Work and Wellesley College, where she was the Henry R. Luce Professor in biology, ethics and the politics of human reproduction. Before her academic career, she had a private psychotherapy practice and worked for the New York State Division of Human Rights.

Dr. Asch was a strong advocate for disability rights and pioneer in disability studies. Her death has been described as a huge loss for the disabilities world. Much of her work focused on the ethical, legal, and social implications of human reproduction. Though supportive of a woman’s right to choose, she was widely known for her lectures and writings on opposing prenatal testing to uncover disabilities and the use of selective abortion as a way to prevent the birth of disabled children, a position informed partly by her personal experience of blindness. She challenged pro-choice scholars and activists to rethink the implications of some of their policies and theories for people with disabilities in present and future generations.

As she wrote in an article for the American Journal of Public Health in 1999:

If public health espouses goals of social justice and equality for people with disabilities—as it has worked to improve the status of women, gays and lesbians, and members of racial and ethnic minorities—it should reconsider whether it wishes to continue the technology of prenatal diagnosis.

She added:

My moral opposition to prenatal testing and selective abortion flows from the conviction that life with disability is worthwhile and the belief that a just society must appreciate and nurture the lives of all people, whatever the endowments they receive in the natural lottery.

“Certainly a luminary in the field, Dr. Asch will be missed greatly by all who knew her and her work,” said Dean Jeanette Takamura. “We are proud that Adrienne Asch was one of our own. We offer our condolences to her closest family and friends.”