Harriet McBryde Johnson

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Harriet McBryde Johnson (July 8, 1957 – June 4, 2008) was an American author, attorney, and disability rights activist. She was disabled due to a neuromuscular disease and used a motorized wheelchair.

Johnson, who was born in eastern North Carolina, lived most of her life in Charleston, South Carolina.[1] She earned a B.S. in history from Charleston Southern University (1978), a Master's in Public Administration from the College of Charleston (1981), and a J.D. (law degree) from the University of South Carolina (1985).[2]

In 2002 Harriet Johnson debated Peter Singer, challenging his belief that parents ought to be able to euthanize their disabled children. "Unspeakable Conversations," Johnson's account of her encounters with Singer and the pro-euthanasia movement, was published in the New York Times Magazine in 2003. It also served as inspiration for The Thrill, a 2013 play by Judith Thompson partly based on Johnson's life.[3]

Concerning the attention her writings about the Terri Schiavo case received by the press, she commented:

"It’s frustrating to me that it boiled down in the popular discussion to a conflict between right-to-life and right-to-die. I don’t think that’s it at all. I think that we ought to analyze the case in terms of disability discrimination."[4]

She published a memoir, Too Late to Die Young: Nearly True Tales From a Life, in 2005 and a novel, Accidents of Nature, in 2006.

During her career as an attorney she specialized in helping people who couldn't work get Social Security benefits. She was also chairwoman of the Charleston County Democratic Party. She once described herself as a "disabled, liberal, atheistic Democrat".[5] She expressed support for Congress during the Terri Schiavo case.[6]

In 1990 she drew national attention for her opposition to the annual Jerry Lewis Muscular Dystrophy Telethon. Lewis told the Chicago Tribune he had no intention of making peace with opponents such as Johnson. He likened the idea of meeting with them to entertaining Hezbollah or insurgents in Iraq. Johnson described the telethon as "the charity mentality" and decried its "pity-based tactics".

In 2003 Johnson was named Person of the Year by New Mobility.

Johnson died at home on June 4, 2008.[7][8]

Published works[edit]

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