An article calling for the killing of disabled newborn babies by tabloid journalist Alexander Nikonov has provoked a storm of protest and split Russian society.
In an article for Speed Info titled "Finish them off before they suffer," Nikonov called for babies who are born with disabilities to be euthanised in order to spare the newborn and the parents the pain they would endure during the child's lifetime
In response, outraged parents of disabled children lodged a complaint with the Union of Russian Journalists and turned to President Dmitry Medvedev for support. Nikonov described disabled babies, including children born with Down's syndrome, as "defective blanks" and "idiots".
Despite human rights activists, Russian Orthodox Church officials and parents of disabled children comparing Nikonov's ideas to Nazi ideology, he has garnered a sizeable number of supporters. Twenty-five percent of respondents in an Ekho Moskvy survey agreed with Nikonov, and 46 percent of those polled by the St. Petersburg-based 100-TV channel believed that killing disabled babies is more sensible than trying to raise them.
"It is horrible that unqualified people like Nikonov try to present their views of families with disabled children as the absolute truth. He has never brought up a disabled child, so what can he know?" said Nadezhda Veselova, a spokeswoman for Perspektiva, an NGO that works to protect disabled people's rights.
"What qualifies as disability anyway?" wrote a blogger called VM. "Some people wear glasses, some use a wheelchair to get around. There are conditions that are invisible to the naked eye and yet life-threatening. If people have cancer, should they simply be eradicated? Those with developmental difficulties are no less valuable to those who love them."
A nurse who cares for disabled people disagreed: "It's an existence, not a life. One patient I remember was a woman in her late 20s who had a devastating chromosomal abnormality. She was about the size of a small child, lay in bed and was fed through a tube. No movement, no communication. Who would want to live like this? How much does it cost to keep someone like this alive for over 20 years?"
Vladislav Andryshin, the editor of the hpsy.ru psychology web site, said Russian society was extremely polarised on the issue.
"When a high standard of living ... becomes the main goal for many people, the healthy and active part of society tries to set itself apart from the others - the elderly, the homeless, the terminally ill," he said. "But we should remember that we become humans only when we care for children, the disabled and the ill."
In Russia, disabled people often live in an unfriendly or hostile environment.
Official figures put the number of disabled children in the country at 545,000, of which 24 per cent have various organ diseases and/or metabolic disorders; 23 percent live with limited motor functions; and 21 percent are mentally disabled.
But some experts claim the number of disabled children is at least twice the official figure; many parents do not register their children's disabilities, as the procedure is complicated and bureaucratic.
"Disabled children in Russia are trapped within four walls," said Svetlana Shtarkova, the mother of a disabled child. "There are no nurseries for them, no schools, no work and no entertainment."
"Families with disabled children face many problems," Shtarkova said. Doctors often refuse to treat such children because they are unqualified or do not have the necessary medicine; nurseries and schools refuse to admit disabled kids, and neighbours, acquaintances and strangers often shun and neglect them, according to Shtarkova.
"We need to change the public's attitude towards the disabled," Shtarkova said.