In Memoriam: Adrienne Asch and Stuart Spicker

The faculty of the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics join their peers in mourning the recent passing of two leaders and pioneers of the field: Stuart Spicker and Adrienne Asch.

Spicker, a philosopher and innovative thought leader in medical ethics, challenged existing concepts of embodiment, disease and death with scholarship that has had a lasting impact on the field. He was an early advocate for international dialogue in ethics, emphasizing the importance of recognizing and learning from diverse perspectives.  Spicker was also a leading force in the movement to improve hospital ethics committees. He was founding co-editor of Philosophy and Medicine, a series running over one hundred volumes.

Berman Institute faculty member and friend of the family Joseph Ali recalls his formative interactions with Spicker: “Stuart introduced me to bioethics as a teenager by giving me the formidable challenge of organizing his massive home library in Placitas, New Mexico. I got lost in the philosophical texts,” Ali remembers. “He was a mentor par excellence, always willing to share guidance over the years. He leaves us with his wisdom:”

…we would do well to adopt a modest view of the power the human intellect or reason can play in any life…and, in the end, acknowledge the possibility of the abyss – admittedly the deeply unedifying demands of one’s ‘eternally’ mortal frame, one’s corporeality, which, I observe, the Many are still, sadly, unable to celebrate. Do they want what they can’t have? (S.F. Spicker, 20 November 2002, unpublished).

Read an obituary for Dr. Spicker here and share memories in the electronic guest book.

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Adrienne Asch, a globally respected bioethicist and social psychologist, pushed thought and debate forward regarding disability studies, reproductive rights and feminism, and how these issues should inform each other.  According to her obituary in The New York Times, “She maintained that the lives of disabled women should be as much a feminist concern as those of able-bodied ones. Disabled women, she argued, had long been doubly marginalized: first because of their sex, and again because they failed to conform to a collective physical ideal — an ideal to which at least some able-bodied feminists subscribed.”

Born premature, Asch lost her vision in her first few weeks of life. Her blindness contributed to her stances against prenatal testing and abortion to select children without “disabilities”.

“Adrienne did more than anyone in bioethics to transform how we should think and how we should talk about people, and especially women, with disabilities,” says Ruth Faden, director of the Berman Institute.  “She taught me, and pretty much everyone she reached, so much, not just about disability but also about how to think in a fuller way about what matters ethically.”