"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."
Controversial Princeton philosopher Peter Singer's views, which can be read as advocating infanticide for those born with disabilities, received eloquent rebuttal by longtime disability rights activist Harriet McBryde Johnson in the cover story of this past Sunday's New York Times magazine.
"Unspeakable Conversations, or, How I Spent One Day as a Token Cripple at Princeton University," is Charleston, SC attorney Johnson's first-person account of her interactions with Singer. "Whenever I try to wrap my head around his tight string of syllogisms, my brain gets so fried it's . . . almost fun. Mercy! It's like ''Alice in Wonderland,' " she writes. The story is online at http://www.nytimes.com/2003/02/16/magazine/16DISABLED.html (free registration required).
Johnson's sly debunking of the philosopher's utilitarian philosophy is is being called a "watershed" in the disability rights movement. It has already garnered over 400 posting on the NY Times Magazine discussion forum, putting it among that forum's most-discussed articles. Some activists believe its publication will begin to marginalize Singer's views on the lives of disabled people, which have been a source of anger to the activists of Not Dead Yet, who protested when Singer was appointed to the bioethics chair at Princeton.
Views such as Singer's, which hold that disabled lives are intrinsically "worse off," led, say critics, to the eugenics movement of the last century. An op-ed in Sunday's Los Angeles Times took up that issue, calling on Calif. Gov. Gray Davis to follow the lead of nearly a half-dozen other states and apologize for its forced sterilization of nearly half a million people deemed disabled and "defective." Read the op-ed at the L.A. Times website
Though new to New York Times Magazine readers, Johnson's articles and disability rights commentary are familiar to disability advocates; she has written for both New Mobility and Ragged Edge. Here are links to a few of her articles:
Read a New Republic article on Singer's philosophy.