Liman Fellow Ady Barkan ’10, Well-Known Healthcare Activist, Dies at 39

A row of people sitting behind the panelists’ table in a classroom
Ady Barkan ’10, center, at the Liman Colloquium in 2011.

Ady Barkan ’10, lawyer, activist, and 2010 Liman Fellow, died at age 39 on Nov. 1 from complications of the terminal neurodegenerative disease ALS. He was a co-founder of Be a Hero and an organizer for the Center of Popular Democracy. Barkan used his own challenges in getting healthcare to become a leader in the effort to preserve the Affordable Care Act.

Diagnosed in 2016 with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, Barkan was recognized as “the most powerful activist in America” according to a 2019 headline from Politico. In 2020, he was included on Time's list of the 100 most influential people in the world.

Be A Hero’s Co-Executive Director Jamila Headley shared in a remembrance, “After his diagnosis, Ady chose to use the time he had left fighting to create a country where health care is treated as a human right. He knew he was building something that would outlast him, and his relentless campaigning made him one of the most prominent health care advocates in the nation."

Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders posted tributes to Barkan and his work on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter. 

“Ady Barkan was a hero who made this world a better place,” Warren wrote. 

Sanders wrote: “Ady Barkan was an inspiration to all of us. There are very few people in this country who have done more to make health care a human right. To honor his life, let us dedicate ourselves to completing his work.”

Barkan, at left in the back row, at Yale Law School in 2011 with his cohort of Liman fellows.

After Yale Law School, Barkan received a Liman Fellowship, which supports graduates working in public interest law. As a Liman Fellow, Barkan worked at Make the Road New York, a community organization and workers’ center with offices in Brooklyn and Queens. With the organization’s members and allies, Barkan helped to enforce wage and hour laws on behalf of restaurants employees. He focused on legislative advocacy in New York City and Albany to reform labor laws to provide paid sick leave for food industry employees. Following his fellowship, Barkan clerked for Judge Shira Scheindlin in the Southern District of New York.

Ady Barkan’s face is shown on a large projection screen above the panelists’ table in an auditorium
Barkan, on screen, joined the 2022 Liman Colloquium remotely as a featured speaker.

Barkan was a featured speaker in 2022 at the Arthur Liman Center for Public Interest Law’s 25th Colloquium, during which he joined a panel, “Confronting, Collaborating, Coordinating, and Disagreeing with Government.”

“Ady was an exemplar of how to engage government and a role model for us all,” Arthur Liman Professor of Law Judith Resnik said. “I am lucky to have known him; we were all graced with his brilliance, kindness, and leadership.”

Barkan's book, Eyes to the Wind: A Memoir of Love and Death, Hope and Resistance, was published in 2019 by Atria Books. In September, the Roosevelt Institute honored Barkan with one of its Four Freedoms Awards, bestowing on him the Freedom from Want Award “for his unapologetic work fighting for freedom from economic want and for a more just health-care system in the United States."

Barkan lived with his wife Rachael King, an English professor at the University of California at Santa Barbara, and their two children in Santa Barbara, California.

Read Barkan’s obituary in The New York Times and at HuffPost.