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Cochlear Implants Do Not Eliminate Deaf Rights

Posted Oct 17 2008 9:01pm

Recently we described how we were kind of at a standstill. We have some tests scheduled for later in January, and a CAT Scan in March. We are attending counseling sessions and so forth, but with no visible signs of the hearing aids working, we are just doing our best to learn about the various viewpoints on Drew's hearing.

If you've followed along, you've probably seen the video footage of various children being exposed to sound for the first time after their cochlear implant surgery, which we find exciting. On the other hand, I have also posted some links to the other viewpoint - one in which the implant technology is viewed (in the words of some) as genocide of the deaf culture.

Michelle Dawson has a blog called " The Autism Crisis: The Science and Ethics of Autism Advocacy". In her January 2, 2007 entry entitled " How Human Rights Dissapear", she expresses her concern that the cochlear implant technology may be contributing to the dissapearance of basic human rights of deaf people.

In this entry, Ms. Dawson responds to an article that appeared in New Scientist Magazine entitled " Ear Implant Success Sparks Culture War"that asked:

COULD the end of sign language for deaf children be in sight? A spate of new studies has shown that profoundly deaf babies who receive cochlear implants in their first year of life develop language and speech skills remarkably close to those of hearing children. Many of the children even learn to sing passably well and function almost flawlessly in the hearing world.
This article continued:
Geers agrees deaf culture may be under threat, but says "there is no hostility here. People are doing this so that deaf people can live in the hearing world, marry who they like, and work where they like, and so that hearing parents can have their children as part of their culture. But it must seem like genocide to the deaf."
Ms. Dawson responded to this section of the article stating:
Now deaf people who remain deaf are not only considered to lack "normal" language, their basic human rights have vanished. They can no longer marry who they like or work where they like. That is, they lack some of the very basic human rights that benefit and protect non-deaf people and which non-deaf people can take for granted. "Hostility" is beside the point.

Setting aside arguments about culture, this is a demonstration of how human rights disappear. A group of people has their essential human differences pathologized. Their basic human qualities are then denied--because their differences have become unacceptable. A treatment is then promoted that promises to eradicate their pathology and make them normal, or at least make them appear to be as normal as possible. When a human difference is classified as a pathology and then declared treatable, those having this difference--in this case, deaf people--no longer have rights as themselves.
Pardon my possible ignorance, but I just don't see as how "promoting" the cochlear implant "treatment" is eliminating "rights" of deaf people.

First, what rights are being referred to? In my reading of the blog entry, I don't see a description on what rights have dissapeared since the advent of the cochlear implant technology. When the quoted article states "People are doing this so that deaf people can live in the hearing world, marry who they like, and work where they like", the author is obviously not suggesting that the non-hearing deaf do not have these "rights". Rather, the author is suggesting that having the ability to hear may increase the opportunity to hold certain jobs unavailable to those who can't hear, the opportunity to meet and converse with possible mates that hear, and so forth. The use of cochlear implants does not reduce the "rights" of deaf people in the way suggested.

Second, the entry insinuates that the cochlear implant is responsible for "pathologizing" the deaf person's "essential human differences". I don't mean to be crass, but deaf persons, blind persons, persons of a different race or culture, persons with an illness or disease, or anyone with a special need of any kind has been "pathologized" for hundreds, if not thousands of years. We are only beginning (in relative terms) to break through some of these issues due to education of the public at large. Why is the cochlear implant villified? What has changed other than giving those deaf people who wish to use sound to communicate the chance to go that if they wish?

Earlier in this country's history eugenic sterilization was implemented to "combat" the "problem" of the mentally ill, mentally retarded, and yes, even the deaf. This map below shows states that had implemented such a program as of 1921.

The idea was to prevent anyone with these "pathologies" from having children who could pass along the genetic "defect". This program continued until even after World War II when some began to feel uncomfortable with the similarities the sterilization program had with Adolph Hitler's dreams of a superior race of Aryans and matching quest to erradicate the Jewish faith.

Some "deaf culture" advocates would have me believe that the cochlear implant itself is similar to the tanks and ammunition of Hitler's army, with the population of the U.S. bent on advancing a holocaust against the deaf race. I feel that this is disingenuous.

The subjects of sterilization in America, and the victims of the holocaust were unwilling subjects. Not only were they unwilling subjects, but they lost the ability to do something due to the aggressor (ability to have children, and ability to live, respectively).

The "subjects" of cochlear implant surgery either 1) choose the surgery as an adult after an informed decision, or 2) have the surgery as a child, before they can make an informed decision for themselves. As far as I know, no one has ever been forced by the government, or a third party to have the implant.

Now, there is a sub-issue in this whole debate concerning whether parents should be permitted to have their child implanted. I will leave this issue alone for the moment, since it deals with wholly different issues such as what rights a child has, the responsibility of parents, when a person can give consent, and so forth.

Finally, my view is that an adult or child with profound loss at high db's loses nothing by having the implant. Should the adult wish to not hear for any reason, they can remove the processer and have the relief of silence. Should a child grow up and decide they do not want invasive noise in their life, they can similarly remove the processer and have quiet.

The only real loss I can see (assuming a successful surgery) is the loss a child faces when his parents choose not to have them implanted. Studies show (see above article) that children who are implanted earlier in life can develop higher level language skills than those who are implanted later in life. By deciding to let your child decide later in life whether they want an implant, the decision is made to not develop these language skills that can never be regained fully. I would rather ensure my child have these skills, and then decide not to use them, rather than decide on their behalf not to develop them in the first place.

From what I've seen, the deaf community is a proud community, and they have reason to be. However, I don't believe that the anger I have seen toward children and parents with cochlear implants is either warranted or fair. I certainly don't wish to impair the rights of others, and I don't support the "destruction" of the deaf, non-hearing community. However, I don't believe that the implant can be fairly described as a weapon in such a holocaust. It simply gives choice to those who wish to utilize its technology. Those that are not interested may choose to ignore it.

It seems to me that there is an outcry from some to eliminate the choice to have an implant, especially in young children. To me, should that outcry be heard, that is where a real loss of rights would occur.
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