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Cochlear Implants in Children: Ethics and Choices

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The mother of a young boy was asked if she saw implant surgery as elective surgery.

Oh yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah . . . . I mean we never felt that it was something we had to do. And that was probably part of the reason why it was a hard thing to decide, because here you are putting your kid under the knife, and is it something you really need to do? I mean it was really hard.

Mother of a 13-year-old boy implanted in 1996

Very few of the parents we talked with felt that implant surgery was absolutely necessary for their child to lead a productive and satisfying life. Rather, most parents, after considerable thought and discussion, felt that, given their experiences, their assumptions about the role of hearing in the modern world, their family situation, and the opportunities they hoped would be available for their child, the surgery, however traumatic and nerve-wracking it might be, was at least worth trying.

The mother of a young boy recalled her pre-implant anxieties in the days leading up to the surgery:

The whole week [before] . . . I really went through a whole reconsideration, like, he’s perfect the way he is, why would we cut into his head? He’s doing fine with sign language. What are we doing? We’re changing him. It was really terrifying.

Mother of a 5-year-old boy implanted in 1996

Another mother, whose child was implanted in 1996 said, concerning the surgery:

We’re setting [our daughter] up for her life having a medical need . . . . I realize . . . we’re doing that, . . . but we thought even [when] she becomes an adult if she doesn’t want [the implant] she can have it taken out.

Mother of an 11-year-old girl implanted in 1996

An important issue for many of the families we talked with was how they prepared their child for the implant surgery. Some families visited the implant center prior to the surgery, some said they used coloring books or other books provided by the implant center or from another source, and some used a variety of other creative methods to prepare for the surgery.

FATHER: We told [our son] all about what was going to happen. We took him down to the hospital [and they had] dolls and everything down there. They showed him all the gowns that would be used by the doctors and what he would wear . . . . That was explained to him before the operation.

MOTHER: [Our son] still has the coloring books the hospital gave him about the operation and implant and he still reads them occasionally. He knew he would have the same device his school friend . . . had, so that was great to him.

FATHER: [Our son] had very little language at the time [of the implant]. I want to say he understood . . . we were doing something. But I can’t exactly say that he knew exactly what was going to happen. I mean he didn’t know down to the last detail what was going on. He just knew we were doing something and it was going to involve an operation because that was explained to him pretty clearly, I thought.

Parents of a 7-year-old boy implanted in 1997


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