Disabled atheist takes on Peter Singer
Moral conservatives love Princeton professor Peter Singer because he makes such an easy target (for example, see the 2001 Books & Culture article "Professor of Death," various columns by Charles Colson, and Rethinking Peter Singer: A Christian Critique). Singer made his reputation as the author of Animal Liberation. But he has outraged defenders of human life by arguing that parents of severely disabled infants should be allowed to kill them.
In Sunday's New York Times Magazine, a 42-year-old lawyer and disability-rights activist writes candidly about her conversations with Singer—and how she defended her own right to life. Harriet McBryde Johnson recounts the dismay of her fellow activists in the organization Not Dead Yet. Many of them had previously protested Singer's presence at Princeton and been jailed for their efforts. That Johnson should dialogue with Singer both in Charleston and at Princeton, shake his hand, and discuss the issues with him in a civil manner offended them deeply.
On the other hand, Johnson didn't find it easy to do these things. Singer was, after all, someone who (in principle) thought she should (or could) have been exterminated. How do you relate to someone like that? Especially when he is so polite and civil and "free of condescension"? He thinks you should be dead, but he treats you so nice.
"I am shaking, furious, enraged," writes Johnson. Not at Singer, but at those in the audience "who have listened with polite interest, when in decency they should have run him out of town on a rail."
Johnson easily shoots down one of Singer's fundamental arguments: that disabled people, by virtue of their very disability, are "worse off" and can't enjoy life. "I don't think ...1
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