top bar
QuickTopic free message boards logo
Skip to Messages


Choosing deafness

^     All messages            3-18 of 18  1-2 >>
03:58 AM ET (US)
I've read several comments online over the past two weeks regarding this issue. While some analogies have been well thought, out none stand the simplest scrutiny. Race is one of the least convincing. Certainly the disadvantages that come with being black in America are very real, but they are not inescapable. Discrimination is an act perpetrated by another while deafness is an intrinsic physical limitation one carries throughout life. Similar analogies involving gender, mental retardation, disfigurement and other physical and sensory limitations fall short as well. The links between disability, deafness, language and culture make much of this issue unique.

It may be true to say that the Deaf usually have no desire to be able to hear, but that is not the situation here. The opportunity to hear is, to a degree, is being taken from someone.

It makes perfect sense that Deaf couples would want Deaf
children as a natural part of building a family. Deaf couples are unique because they have a very sharp and clear understanding of why they want to have Deaf children. It's based largely on their personal family experiences and those of their Deaf colleagues. Hearing parents don't appreciate that having hearing children is a benefit to them because of the links between culture, language and family bonding. They gloss over the nuances by saying, "We want our child to be perfect," when it would be more accurate for them to say, "We want our child to be like us and those around us."

The most important word in that last paragraph is 'want'. It's a hope, a desire, a personal preference not a goal to be attained. It crosses a line when they manipulate the outcome to fulfill this personal preference. It sets a dangerous precedent.

The idea that a Deaf couple should alter, by any degree, the chance that they would have Deaf children uses the same false reasoning that would allow hearing couples to eliminate deafness in their families. By the way, they specifically chose this man because of the high occurance of deafness in his family. The article states that as a result, the chances increased from 10% to 50% of producing a deaf child. Deaf people have no more right to do this than hearing people. Approval and support of future decisions like the one this Deaf couple made opens the floodgates of fair play. This would not be beneficial for Deaf people, Deaf culture and society as a whole for various reasons.

This couple did nothing to inform themselves of the specific genetic markers that caused the donor father's deafness. There are several syndromes associated with congenital deafness. Recessive syndromes can begin to express themselves with more frequency down through each
generation; all as a result of the continued haphazard efforts of picking Deaf people to improve the chance of having Deaf children.

If no other reason is convincing, consider that these children may want to have children of their own. Has their parents' decision made it impossible for them to decide for themselves what's best for their own children? Will they have the same opportunities for hope that their parents did, even if it's to hope for a hearing child? It's possible that this or the next generation would loose that
option, even with a hearing spouse. To me, the most appauling thing is that the mother majored in medical ethics and interned in bioethics and NIH, she is clearly in a position to be knowledgable about the dynamics of this issue and yet she fails to address them effectively in the WP Magazine article. I get the impression that she isn't stupid so I can only assume that she played the reporter like only a fine concert violinist can.
chico haas
01:50 AM ET (US)
I have no response to that revelation. The thought never crossed my mind.
12:01 AM ET (US)
I completely understand how your wife's agreement strengthens your disagreement.

The only thing I'll add is that, as far as most deaf people are concerned, deafness is a social handicap. They don't mind being deaf; they mind how hearing people treat them. (This is different from, say, blind people, who actually would like to be able to see, or paralyzed people, who would like to be able to walk. People who are born deaf usually have no desire to be able to hear.)
chico haas
11:28 PM ET (US)
Ted: btw my wife completely agrees with your pov, which, if you've ever been married, only increases my resolve. I find the black - deaf analogy lacking in that it assumes a black person will always be disadvantaged. Clearly, that is not the case everywhere, everytime. But a deaf person will always be at a sensory disadvantage. One is at times a societal handicap; the other at all times a physical one. To me, it's apples and oranges. The rest of what you have to say - about wanting children that combine the look of you and your mate - that makes perfect sense to me.
ZizkovPerson was signed in when posted
09:23 PM ET (US)
Presumably, these parents would have been underjoyed to have hearing children. Or lets say, one of their children could hear, and was blind. What then?

Lets hope they don't grow up heterosexual.
07:33 PM ET (US)
I would again draw an analogy between being deaf and being black. If a black lesbian couple wanted a child, they would very likely choose a black donor. This decision would clearly limit the child's future opportunities, but we probably wouldn't regard this as a political act. We'd just think of it as a lesbian couple choosing a donor similar to the type of guy they might meet if they were heterosexual women, i.e. a black man.

Likewise, if the deaf women were heterosexual, they would very likely be involved with a deaf man. (Mixed deaf/hearing marriages are extremely rare.) So it's not surprising that they would want a deaf donor. And it didn't _guarantee_ that their child would be deaf; it just increased the odds.
chico haas
12:58 PM ET (US)
Nicely stated, Ted. My pov is that the deaf culture is an ingenious adaption to an existing culture. An extra step taken to cope in a world of five senses. This is not to minimize it, but, honestly, it wouldn't need to exist otherwise. What I find challenging is that the deaf parents are designing a child to fit their personal specifications. They argue that this child will be happier deaf, like them. But isn't it really their own happiness they're thinking about? Conformity is not a requisite for love. Most people accept what comes out of the womb and pray for the best. Science will severely test us about this in the coming decades, but I would say in this case, the parent's freedom of choice is limiting the child's.
01:45 AM ET (US)
I fear I'm going to regret entering this fray, but here goes...

First of all, paralysis and blindness differ from deafness in some fundamental respects. The most obvious is that there is no "paralysis culture" or "blind culture" movement. No paralyzed people and blind people are making the same arguments as deaf people, so it's pointless to offer those conditions as analogies.

Why is there a deaf culture? Deaf people have a common language, and a community with a common language will likely develop its own culture, especially if bilingualism is not common. After all, you wouldn't be surprised if someone who speaks Spanish and not English had a different culture from someone who speaks English and not Spanish, even if they live in the same city.

Given that a separate culture has arisen, and given the strong correlation between deafness and this culture, it's not surprising that deaf parents would like a deaf child. After all, most Spanish-speaking people would like their children to speak Spanish.

One analogy that is often offered is to consider black people and white people. If a white couple were given the choice between having a black baby and having a white one, they would almost certainly choose the white baby. Likewise, a black couple would almost certain choose a black baby. Is this wrong? Most people would say no, because such a child will fit in better with the culture that the parents inhabit.

(And with regard to the cochlear implant debate, some have suggested that performing surgery on a deaf baby is like surgically changing a black baby to a white one, because the parents are white. Few people would support such an operation.)

Now is where people point out that being deaf is a handicap, whereas being black is not. (Actually, being black is a serious handicap in the U.S., and surgically altering a black baby to white would almost certain improve its future, but most people still wouldn't approve of such an operation.) So how serious a handicap is deafness?

Some people point out the safety issue: deaf people can't hear danger. However, I haven't seen any statistics showing higher accident rates among deaf people. Until someone presents some, I suspect the safety issue has been exaggerated.

Then there's the music issue. Sure, music is great. But there are lots of hearing people who don't get much out of music, and we wouldn't suggest surgery to implant them with music-appreciation modules. For some people, football is the greatest thing in life, but a lot of people don't enjoy football, and we wouldn't suggest surgery for them, either.

It's not as clear-cut a question as many people think.
Jubal Kessler
09:35 PM ET (US)
One caveat about cochlear implants: Most "deaf" people (like me) have some amount of residual hearing which can be augumented by hearing aids. Implants effectively remove that residual hearing. If the surgery goes well, you've got an artificial hearing subsitute. If the implant fails at any time .. you've lost whatever hearing you had. It can be a dangerous gambit.

Personally, I'll keep wearing hearingaids for another two decades at least; by that time the science of restoring hearing ought to be significantly safer.
04:14 PM ET (US)
Anyone interested in deaf culture may find Oliver Sacks's book Seeing Voices interesting.

nycdewd- I understand where you're coming from. I sure as hell wouldn't trade the ability to hear music for anything, and I would love to share music with deaf people. But on the other hand, when deafness is part of someone's identity I can understand why they would want to retain it. Though I think if any of these people could actually try hearing they'd never want to go back.
Stefan JonesPerson was signed in when posted
04:05 PM ET (US)
I hope I'm alive twenty years from now, so I can watch the lawsuit on Court 3DTV. Kid vs. Mom & Mom. I hope Kid wins.

Seriously: This pair have deliberately created a child who will have a harder time finding a job, who won't be able to appreciate great swaths of human culture, and will have a harder time avoiding certain dangerous situations.
nycdewdPerson was signed in when posted
03:44 PM ET (US)
I have some dear friends (unmarried and unpaired) that are quite deaf. They share this belief "...that deafness is a cultural identity as well as a physical reality." They too believe that implants/medical measures to restore hearing are wrong.

I will never understand this and disagree vehemently. I think the reasons for restoring hearing (if the prognosis for success is good, on a case by case basis) are so very self-evident that I find it a waste of time even beginning to discuss them here, and I have spent many hours in rather spirited discussion with my deaf friends on this subject. I suppose it should be said, though you might presume, that they can read lips.

OK OK I have to say a *few* things... I mean, have you heard the nuances of a performance of, say, some of the works of Mozart? How much quality of life would you say you'd have missed had you not heard those works and their stirring nuances? Life is hard enough without having some disability or another. Do you think Christopher Reeve would reject a spinal operation that would restore his mobility simply because being immobile has taught him so many valuable lessons and shown him a world he would not otherwise have known? Does that sound like utter nonsense? It is.

And just because some people were either born deaf or had a congenital disease which led to early deafness or got Scarlet Fever and became deaf (or whatever cause of deafness you can name) and these people believe they therefore inhabit a special world does that give these deaf people the right to determine what some other life, quite apart from their own life though created by and through their own bodies, shall be endowed with in an aural sense?

Gotta stop, must get back to work. I can HEAR my boss sneaking up on me.
chico haas
03:43 PM ET (US)
On the face of it, it smacks of vanity. Life's tough enough without added impediments. Plus, every parent eventually has to accept that their child will not be them but a unique individual. Guess I don't have the stomach for this type of determinism.
davegroffPerson was signed in when posted
02:55 PM ET (US)
CPG, by that logic, isn't selecting a mate also genetic engineering? My point is that all this woman did was select a deaf mate, albeit through the intermediary of a sperm bank. Does this intermediation change something? I don't know.

by the way, the contrary view is expressed here, in what I think is a well thought out editorial:
Jonathan Rouse
02:50 PM ET (US)
Say what you will about deaf lesbian genetic engineers. No, really, go ahead, say whatever you want. They can't hear you.

I wonder if any of their friends tried to "talk" them out of it. Get it? Man, I'm clever!
CPGPerson was signed in when posted
02:47 PM ET (US)
Dave, you don't think that selecting a deaf sperm donor is a form of genetic engineering? Of course it is, just as cross-breeding various strains of crops is a form of genetic engineering. The only difference between these examples and the type of actions that get the panties of the anti-GM crowd in a bunch is the efficacy of the intervention.
^     All messages            3-18 of 18  1-2 >>

Print | RSS Views: 1321 (Unique: 777 ) / Subscribers: 1 | What's this?