ASCP Leader Retires as NYC Chief Medical Examiner, Leaving Lasting Legacy
Monday, March 4, 2013
Longtime ASCP leader Charles S. Hirsch, MD, 75, stepped down last month from his position as Chief Medical Examiner of New York City, amid accolades from colleagues and civic leaders.
“Dr. Hirsch was a visionary and dedicated public servant whose work earned him world renown—he was often called ‘the father of modern forensic pathology’—and helped make New York City a global leader,” said Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg in a New York Times article. “He leaves a legacy that he can be proud of and which will serve our city well for many years to come.”
Among his legacies, Dr. Hirsch was a champion of maintaining the office’s independence from outside influences, as well as an outstanding teacher and leader.
— Edmund R. Donoghue Jr., MD, FASCP
Dr. Hirsch chaired the ASCP Forensic Pathology Committee for many years, up until his appointment by New York City Mayor Ed Koch as Chief Medical Examiner in January 1989. Among his legacies, he was a champion of maintaining the office’s independence from outside influences, as well as an outstanding teacher and leader, according to longtime colleague Edmund R. Donoghue Jr., MD, FASCP, Regional Medical Examiner for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.
Yet his greatest legacy was his office’s response when two jet airplanes struck the World Trade Center in the terrorist attack on Sept. 11, 2001. Dr. Hirsch and his staff went down to the epicenter of the attack that morning to set up a temporary morgue. He was knocked down when the first tower collapsed, but continued working. It wasn’t until later that he learned he had broken all of his ribs, according to the Times article.
Dr. Hirsch and his staff worked around the clock to perform the monumental task of identifying the remains of the victims. More than 2,753 people were killed or reported missing in the World Trade Center attack that day. To date, only 1,634 have been identified.
“There was little to go on except fragments,” Dr. Donoghue says. “Most of the victims were crushed in the building collapse and burned from the jet fuel. Their remains were comingled.”
In the process of trying to identify the victims, the Medical Examiner’s Office developed the largest DNA laboratory in the country that oversaw major advancements in DNA identification. Throughout, Dr. Hirsch kept the families of the 9/11 victims apprised of their progress and met with each family individually for every victim who was identified.
Stepping down from his longtime position because of health reasons and his age, Dr. Hirsch has earned the admiration and respect of his colleagues for his wisdom, expertise, and leadership.
Over the years, he deliberately stayed out of the limelight, preferring to focus on serving the people of New York City, according to Dr. Donoghue. Yet he trained many young pathologists, both during his tenure with ASCP and as Chief Medical Examiner of New York City. At least 15 of his former students now serve as chief medical examiners around the nation.
It goes without saying that Dr. Hirsch leaves a lasting legacy in New York City and the nation.