It was only a matter of time:
In late December, Snezhana Mitina received a tearful phone call from her friend Svetlana. Sobbing, Svetlana explained she had just read a newspaper article calling for babies with mental disabilities to be killed at birth.
The author, Aleksandr Nikonov, used the word “debil” — a deeply offensive term in Russian — to characterize such children. He argued that parents should have the right to euthanize newborns diagnosed with mental retardation and other developmental disabilities.
The article, which ran under the headline “Finish Them Off, So They Don’t Suffer,” went on to describe what Nikonov termed “postnatal abortion” as an act of mercy.
Mitina and her friend, Svetlana Shtarkova — both mothers of children with developmental disabilities — decided to take action. They filed a complaint with the Russian Union of Journalists against Nikonov, a correspondent for the popular tabloid “Speed-Info.”
The two women say their aim is not to punish Nikonov but to raise the alarm about Russia’s culture of intolerance toward disabled people. Shtarkova made an emotional appeal at a hearing last week at the journalists’ union.
“The opinion expressed by the author is not unique; statistics show that one-fourth of Russians share similar views,” Shtarkova told the February 2 hearing. “Complete strangers come up to me in the street and tell me that I’m depraved and deserve my fate. Doctors and social workers refuse to do their jobs, just because my child is severely disabled.”
The lawyer representing the two mothers, Pyotr Kucherenko, told the board that Nikonov’s proposal to put “flawed” babies to death only fueled discrimination and was dangerously reminiscent of the theories of racial superiority upheld by Nazi Germany.
Nikonov, however, was unrepentant.
“Let me introduce myself: I am Adolf Hitler. This is the way people want to portray me,” Nikonov says. “But the real bastards are those who tell me, ‘Yes, it is good and fair that people are in pain. We’ll look on and say people can suffer, as long as our scholarly conception of humaneness is not affected.’ To hell with you. People shouldn’t suffer. This is my opinion, and you won’t shut me up.”
This is a stark reminder that the devaluing of life inside the womb leads inexorably to the devaluing of it outside. Nikonov’s reasoning that “people shouldn’t suffer” can easily be developed into the next step: no-one should live since everyone suffers to some degree.