Richard Alan John Asher, FRCP (born Brighton, 3 April 1912 – died Marylebone, 25 April 1969) was an eminent British Endocrinologist and Haematologist. As the senior physician responsible for the mental observation ward at the Central Middlesex Hospital he described and named Munchausen syndrome in a 1951 article in the Lancet.
Richard Asher was born to the Rev Felix Asher and his wife Louise (née Stern). He married Margaret Augusta Eliot
at Pancras, London on 27 July 1943
, whereupon his father-in-law gave him a complete set of the Oxford English Dictionary
, which bioethicist Maurice Pappworth
alleged was the source of Asher's "accidental" reputation as a medical etymologist
.. They had three children: Peter Asher
(born 1944) - member of the pop duo Peter & Gordon
and later record producer, Jane Asher
(born 1946) - film and TV actress and novelist, and Clare Asher (born 1948) - radio actress.
The Asher family home above his private consulting rooms at 57 Wimpole Street was briefly notable when Paul McCartney lived there in 1964-1966 during his relationship with Jane Asher.
In 1964 Dr Asher suddenly gave up his hospital post and perhaps all medical activities. He suffered from depression in later life and reportedly died by his own hand at the age of 57.
Ideas and reputation
Asher was regarded as "one of the foremost medical thinkers of our times", who emphasised the need "to be increasingly critical of our own and other people's thinking". Dr Asher was particularly concerned that "many clinical notions are accepted because they are comforting rather than because there is any evidence to support them".
Richard Asher was hailed as a pioneer in challenging the value of excessive bed rest following treatment, and argued that the Pel-Ebstein fever (a fever characteristic for Hodgkin's disease) was an example of a condition that exists only because it has a name. Asher's 1949 paper "Myxoedematous Madness" alerted a generation of physicians to the interaction between the brain and the thyroid gland. As a result, young and elderly psychiatric patients are now screened for thyroid malfunction.
Richard Asher is remembered today chiefly for his "refreshingly provoking" articles that "sparkle with sequins--his own aphorisms, imaginary dialogue, fantasies, quotations. He thought that medical writing should provide "useful, understandable, and practical knowledge instead of allotov-words-2-obscure-4-any-1,2-succidin-understanding-them
. Anthologies of his articles were well-received, with the Talking Sense
collection being described as "still the best advice on medical writing. Notable articles include:
The Seven Sins of Medicine
The "Seven Sins of Medicine
" is a lecture delivered by Asher and later published in The Lancet, describing medical professional behaviour that is considered inappropriate. These sins are often quoted to students:
- Bad Manners
- Love of the Rare
- Common Stupidity
The Richard Asher prize
Since 1995 an annual prize (2008 value £1200) in memory of Richard Asher has been awarded by the Royal Society of Medicine
and the Society of Authors
for the best first edition textbook aimed at undergraduate students.