Thursday, June 5, 2008

Harriet McBryde Johnson: requiescat in pace

I never met the woman -- the writer and activist -- but I admired her greatly, followed her writing, and imposed upon her for a jacket endorsement of my forthcoming memoir. Every nonfiction author writes to a make a mark -- a difference -- in this world. Harriet McBryde Johnson, a lawyer and a disability activist who lived and worked in Charleston, South Carolina, did that.

As I followed her story of confronting Peter Singer, the utilitarian ethicist who advocates infanticide, the subject equality of animal and human life, and other Brave New World visions, first protesting his appearance in her native city and then speaking before his class at Princeton University, I found her words intelligent, inspiring, and invoking the democratic/humanist ideal -- the social manifestation of the Golden Rule.

Johnson had written previously, but the ground-breaking article in the New York Times Magazine, which she wrote following the speech to the Singer class, put her firmly in the public eye.

It begins ...
He insists he doesn't want to kill me. He simply thinks it would have been better, all things considered, to have given my parents the option of killing the baby I once was, and to let other parents kill similar babies as they come along and thereby avoid the suffering that comes with lives like mine and satisfy the reasonable preferences of parents for a different kind of child. It has nothing to do with me. I should not feel threatened.


Carter said...

Man, that is one hell of an article she wrote for the Times.

I've always considered Singer an irritating nut, but that was for his views on animals. I won't buy the equality nonsense. People don't have canine teeth for nothing.

But I didn't know about his disability views, and this article made me consider him not only obnoxious but a menace. I think his "utilitarian" philosophy is not anything J.S. Mill would have accepted.

And the loss of this woman is a loss for humanity, not just for the disabled. I hope someone as good as she was is lurking in the wings ready to take her place.

I'm just learning about disability in any depth, and I've been around for 80 years. But you're teaching me, and I value that. Thank you.

karna said...

Wow. Thanks for the link to the "conversation" Gary. And how neat that she wrote a blurb for your book!