Russian Debate About Rights of the Disabled

(Trigger warning: this post discusses a progressive response to a violent 'solution' to the problem of people with disabilities, as well as some language which will be very offensive to people with disabilities)

As I've mentioned before, I'm a translator by trade (and yes, please, if you have work!), of French, German and Russian to English.

One of my Russian friends posted a link today to a post on Livejournal - which has always had a thriving Russian-speaking community, where it's called "zheh-zheh", analogous to our "el-jay" - about a journalist on a Moscow radio station who'd posed the question: "Do 'defective' children have the right to life?"

Seriously. With a question mark. The radio report was following up on an intense public debate about so-called "mercy killing", inspired by an article by a journalist named A.P. Nikonov.

The post contains the text of a letter sent to the Russian President, and to the Ombudsperson for Children, by some parents of children with Down Syndrome. Now, there's not a lot we can contribute from outside to that debate; I've included a rough translation of the text of the post below. I wanted to say publicly that they have my support, of little value though it may be, and that I hope they have great success.

Mostly I wanted to point out that, although it looks from the outside to be (and is, in many ways) a very socially conservative country, Russia has its own progressives, and they're fighting the good fight just as we are.

If anything, they're currently fighting a more dangerous fight than we - well, not as much Russia anymore, but certainly in other countries around the world, each having their own clusters of progressivist elements, many of them facing serious consequences, from loss of housing or employment to imprisonment, torture, and/or execution.

And this is where I turn to an unabashed plug for Amnesty International. I've had the pleasure of being a small-scale activist for AI for many years, writing my letters to ambassadors and heads of state, demanding human rights for prisoners of conscience, or those facing cruel and unusual punishment.

Many of those unjustly held, imprisoned without the usual rights obtaining to membership in the human race, are progressives like you and I, who just happen to have been born in a place with a somewhat more repressive government (and how deep the shame to know that my government, and that of the US, have been complicit in a horrid abuse of human rights at Guantanamo). People like Nelson Mandela of South Africa, Aung San Suu Kyi of Myanmar, the Dalai Lama of Tibet, and thousands more, punished for having the nerve to put forward the radical idea of treating all people with basic respect.

The nice thing about Amnesty is, it's *easy* to be an activist for them. You just write letters, mostly. Sure, they need money like any organization, but you can contribute even if you don't have money to give, which is one reason I like them so much.

So, yeah. Plug, plug. Also, bravo/a to our Russian colleagues, and good luck to them with their petition.

The translated post (I'm dashing this off quickly, and if I make any notable errors, I'm hoping one of our resident Shaker russophones can let me know):
Dear friends and professionals!

The debate is everywhere right now about the 'issue' raised by the journalist A.P.Nikonov, in his piece "Mercy-killing: to relieve suffering". The radio station Echo of Moscow posed a question: "Do 'defective' children have the right to life?" Just like that, with a question mark. Apparently this radio journalist has forgotten that in our country, every citizen has the guaranteed right to life, and that we are party to a UN Convention which separately stipulates that people living with developmental disabilities (or, in the language of the journalist, 'defectives') have the same rights as other citizens.

An online community of parents raising children with Down Syndrome (these children having become one of the main targets) are sending a letter of protest to the President of our country (in his role as guarantor of the Constitution), and to Pavel Astakhov, ombudsperson for children in Russia. The letter reads as follows:

Dear Pavel:

We, the parents of children with Down Syndrome, ask you to protect us and our children from those who abuse us in the media, namely A.P. Nikonov, in his article "Mercy-killing: to relieve suffering", and the radio broadcast "Echo of Moscow", specifically the one about "Do 'defective' children have the right to life?"

We believe that it is unacceptable to label our children 'chunks of meat', or 'biomass', or 'broken diskette', or 'retard'.

We believe that the honour and dignity of parents of children with disabilities have been harmed by such statements as "Most normal people turn over their defective children to state custody," and "They're crazy, these little mothers," and "They screw up their own lives, turn themselves into holy martyrs," and so on.

We believe there was much that was offensive in the language and tone in both article and broadcast, as well as the very idea of a public discussion of presenting a possible 'solution' to the parents/mother: euthanasia, so soon as the child is born (the so-called 'post-natal abortion').

We believe that such statements as "And you and your family's lives won't be screwed up, and the state - and I, as a taxpayer - won't have to rear this monster in a home," and the thesis of "deep sleep" for "substandard children who will be a burden on the society, in preference to those who are healthy".

We believe that the touching-off of this intense public debate, using offensive terminology, and given Mr. Nikonov's statements aimed at the most vulnerable members of our society, causes grave damage to the cause - newly taken up in our society - of moving towards accommodating the needs of those living with disabilities, and understanding their difficulties.

And we believe that the consequences of such publications/broadcasts can be very serious, particularly with note of the fact that more and more children with disabilities are remaining with their families.

We ask you, as Ombudsperson for Children in Russia, and as a lawyer, to evaluate these messages yourself, and to protect the honour and dignity of parents of children with disabilities, as well as the rights of our children, who are the most socially vulnerable people in our society. Also, we strongly urge you to prevent future dissemination of messages which express contempt for, or urge humiliation of, persons with disabilities.

(signatures follow, and instructions for how to send messages to the right people)

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