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Cochlear Implants in Children: Ethics and Choices

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One of the more ingenious methods of preparing their child for the implant surgery is described by the parents of a young boy:

FATHER: We tried to tell [our 7-year-old son] what was going to happen and we introduced him to another kid that had a cochlear implant and he was terrified. And . . . then we got him what they call a kidís kit from the Cochlear Corporation. And it was a little book which, of course, he wasnít able to read, but it had pretty pictures of a kid getting a cochlear implant. And it came with a little toy cochlear implant with a processor and headset and Velcro to attach it to whatever the kidís favorite little doll was. [Our sonís] favorite thing was a 6-foot-long stuffed snake . . . . We brought this snake into the hospital for his speech therapy and we took the snake into the audiology booth and tested the snakeís hearing and I, I am not kidding, we tested, we gave . . . the snake a hearing test . . . . He was supposed to rattle his tail when he heard sound, and he didnít hear anything! And so we reached the conclusion that his ears were broken, like [our sonís], and then we went and took the snake to the doctor . . . in the clinic there, and we said, Okay, hereís his audiogram, and of course thereís nothing. His ears are broken. Can you do anything for him? Can you fix them? And the doctor looked at this and looked at the snake and took out his little otoscope and he said, No, thereís nothing we can do. The only thing that might help him to hear is if he gets a cochlear implant. And [our son] was like, Oh, No! And then we told [him] they could do it right away. But his snake was going to have to stay in the hospital to get this done. He was going to have to [stay] overnight. Actually he had to stay over the weekend because speech therapy was . . . Tuesday. And Tuesday came and we went back to the clinic and the snake was waiting for us there with his head all bandaged up. And the doctor took his little bandage scissors and cut the bandage off. And there was the snakeís new cochlear implant . . . . We took the snake back to the booth and, lo and behold, the snake could hear.

MOTHER: Then . . . .

FATHER: . . . our son decided he . . .

MOTHER and FATHER (together): . . . wanted a cochlear implant!

Parents of an 11-year-old boy implanted in 1995

A few of the children in the families we interviewed experienced some complications with the surgery. One of the more serious complications occurred in a girl who was implanted in 1992. Part of the interview with the mother is as follows:

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