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Johnson’s Response to Deadly Medicine


JOAN RINGELHEIM: So let me ask you, when you think about this question of cure and what you saw in Deadly Medicine...


JOAN RINGELHEIM: Were the Nazis interested in curing society in a way different or similar from the ways in which you see the medical profession and public policy now wishing to cure disease? Or even cure disability?

HARRIET MCBRYDE JOHNSON: Yeah. Well, of course when we talk about cure, we’re usually talking about changing the individual rather than exterminating the individual. And that’s certainly a very, very big difference. But, you know, I, one other thing that was in the exhibit, there was a poster from the United States, I think from Kansas, where a prize had been given, maybe at a state fair for the “fittest family” that, you know, biologically, as in survival of the fittest, and it was this family of healthy blond farmers and I look at that and say my family wouldn’t qualify really a couple of different ways but largely because of me. So I think the starting point is not that different. Our society and their society starts with the notion that people like me are not the way people should be. We are not the kind of people who are wanted and who are valued. Jerry Lewis once called the disabled children or children with muscular dystrophies “mistakes who came out wrong.” And that I think is pretty, exactly the attitude behind Deadly Medicine, “mistakes who came out wrong.” And he would say raise a truckload of money to do research, to cure. A lot of their research does also go to genetic counseling and various ways of preventing births of people like me. So that part of it’s alive and well. But this whole notion that we are mistakes, that we are not what is wanted is there. And even if people refrain from rounding you up and gassing you or forcibly sterilizing you, it’s a very uncomfortable world to live in, knowing that you’re not what people want.

Harriet McBryde Johnson describes her response to the USHMM's Deadly Medicine exhibition.