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From the Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education
Whereas some may eschew serious consideration of these 10 essays on bioethics and cochlear implants, those who do not will return to their own viewpoints with a broader perspective and with thoroughly tested, if not altered, convictions. Consider Harlan Lane’s assertion: “… surgery that is sought merely to help a child ‘pass’ as a member of the majority or simply to facilitate learning the majority language is unethical” (p. 60). Regarding claims about language learning, Lane contends: “… research on language benefit and its parameters is very much a work in progress” and “there is no body of knowledge on the effects of the implant on educational achievement, social identity, or psychological adjustment” (p. 55). Kristina Svartholm and Paal Richard Peterson make an urgent call for sign language for children with cochlear implants in order that they might be “better prepared for life after school” (Svartholm, p. 147) and “active participants in a democratic society” (Peterson, p. 165). Although the children with implants interviewed by Gunilla Preisler “recognized advantages with the implant,” “it did not enable them to fully participate in a hearing and speaking environment,” so the children, themselves, “identified their need for sign language” (p. 130).
Given that surgery should not be performed on a healthy child and that “Deaf communities consider that they and their lifestyles are normal” (Priscilla Alderson, p. 33), the realities of the “Deaf dilemma” become palpable. As Lane explains, “the majority’s accommodation of the Deaf has come under a disability label, and Deaf people must in effect subscribe to that label to gain their rights” (p. 50). Haualand and Hansen conclude from interviews of deaf youth who grew up with sign language in the home that, “[a]s young adults, these youth reject an inferior or deficit status within their family and expect or demand to be treated on equal terms outside the family” (p. 163). Nevertheless, in a textual analysis reported by Linda Komesaroff, the deficit representation dominates in the media and is perpetuated by medical and speech-language-hearing specialists. They, along with educators, have used inaccurate and incomplete information to “railroad” parents into choosing implant surgery for their children, report Karen Lloyd and Michael Uniacke. The concepts of parental authority, children’s rights, and relevant disclosure are explored by Eithne Mills in a legal context. Alderson suggests that “it may be hard to find enough doctors who believe that it is ethical not to provide cochlear implants” and who could, thus, obtain valid informed consent (p. 39).
According to Komesaroff, it is the investors in implant companies who “have stood to make enormous financial gain” (p. 89). Paddy Ladd warns, “Genetic modification lurks in the background as a (semiconcealed) next scenario” (p. 22), and calls for “SLPs” (sign language peoples) to defend “the legitimacy of their very existence” (p. 22), perhaps by “seeking legal protection under language minority rights legislation” (p. 24). He and others of this international group of deaf and hearing essayists is certain to jolt readers into a discomfiting state. If you think you can disregard anti-implant reasoning and if you think you understand pro-implant arguments, read this book and know why, amidst advances in the implant field, Ladd finds these to be “dark and unpromising times” for the “Peoples of the Eye” (p. 26).
Linda Komesaroff is a senior lecturer at Deakin University, Melbourne, Australia.
ISBN 978-1-56368-349-7, 7 x 10 paperback, 208 pages, references, index
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