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Genetics, Disability, and Deafness

John Vickrey Van Cleve, Editor

Now in Paperback!

Read chapter one.
Read reviews: Ragged Edge Magazine, Choice, SIGNews, Disability Studies Quarterly.


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From Ragged Edge Magazine, cont’d.

Why shouldn’t genetics students worry, according to decades’ worth of geneticists? Because the number of people with PKU or CF will increase slowly. There’ll be more children with the relevant genes, but not many more.

But that’s assuming that people pick their sexual partners pretty much at random -- which, as far as a lot of genes are concerned, is a reasonable assumption. Genes for deafness, on the other hand, are probably different. People want partners with whom they can communicate and with whom they have things in common, and culturally Deaf people living in a dominant hearing culture may quite reasonably prefer other Deaf people as partners.

“There is a great battle going on in our intellectual culture today,” writes Louis Menard in the first essay in the book, “The Science of Human Nature and the Human Nature of Science.” “It is a battle between people who believe that science opens new possibilities for human life and people who worry that it closes them.”

It’s probably more complicated than that: in his essay “Not This Pig: Dignity, Imagination, and Informed Consent,” Mark Willis talks about the differences in the ways he approaches his genetically-related blindness, heart problems and risk for Alzheimer’s. Many disabled people believe that some applications of science open new possibilities, and others close possibilities off.

And by the time the reader gets to the last essay in the book, Michael Bérubé’s “Disability, Democracy, and the New Genetics,” and encounters Bérubé’s challenge to the idea of “modest, circumspect, prudent scientists” versus “fuzzy-headed, antediluvian humanists who come into these discussions armed only with citations from Nathaniel and Aldous Huxley,” the reader will have encountered a variety of ways to look at Menard’s battlefield: in these pages is found not only an attempt to briefly explain some of the science, but a look at how some people struggle with the implications of that science in different times and places.

Before the rise of Deaf culture, deaf people may have reproduced pretty much at random, but with Deaf culture has come assortative mating, people choosing people who are like them as partners. Assortative mating is not limited to Deaf people, either: Nance points out that Tay Sachs disease and sickle-cell anemia are more common than they would be if Jews and African-Americans picked their partners from the population at random.

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John Vickrey Van Cleve is Professor Emeritus of History, Gallaudet University, Washington, DC.

ISBN 978-1-56368-576-7, 6 x 9 paperback, 240 pages, tables, figures, photographs, references, index


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