Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Episode Two (More on That Video)

In Episode One, I gave my response to the argument (of sorts) presented in the video for why it is wrong to give young children cochlear implants. As you may recall, I disagreed with this argument.

Now let's put this video in context. First of all, it's nothing new -- just a very effective and graphic repackaging of an old message. There is, for various reasons, great hostility among some in the Deaf community toward cochlear implants in general, and especially toward the idea of implanting young children.

Now, my perspective on cochlear implantation is that it's a fabulous technology that gives my son access to sound, and that access to sound has manifold and tremendous benefits that far outweigh the small amount of risk associated with the surgery and the daily inconveniences of living with the equipment. Even the extraordinary expense is more than compensated for by the savings in special education costs.

Obviously not everyone shares this perspective. One of the common counterclaims is that one does not need sound in order to live a rich, full, successful life. Many Deaf people offer themselves as living proof of this fact. I will argue, and I think they will agree with me, that many aspects of life are a lot easier when you can hear, but as someone pointed out during a recent discussion on cicircle, "easier" does not necessarily mean "better." I know that many deaf/Deaf people feel that some of their best life experiences and lessons are rooted in their deafness, that in fact it has enriched their lives. I respect this, and I hope that Ben has some of those same enriching experiences, despite the fact that he is hearing for many hours of each day. I can see why some people would feel that the expense, risk, and hassle of implantation are not worthwhile, given the fact that there is a viable alternative (namely, growing up Deaf). I don't have a good response to this argument. (Well, I have a response, but it's guaranteed to cause offense, and that's not my goal here.)

Another very common assertion is that hearing parents choose to implant their deaf children because they are too lazy to learn ASL, and that depriving a deaf child of ASL is an evil in itself, aside from the other evils of implantation. I've got a response to this one. The first claim is simply false. I've gone through the experience of implanting my child; I am currently going through the experience of teaching my child ASL; I know which process is harder, and it ain't ASL. We don't implant our children because we're lazy. I disagree with the second claim as well. First of all, depriving a child (any child) of language altogether is evil, but I don't see anything inherently evil in teaching a child one language instead of another. Second of all, I'm not in fact depriving Ben of ASL. I'm doing my best to teach it to him as a second language. The beauty of the CI is that it has made it possible (in fact, fairly easy) for him to learn spoken English (the most common form of communication in our society) in addition to ASL, French, Latin, Klingon, or whatever else he takes a fancy to. In what way is he deprived?

Nevertheless, I have some sympathy to this position as well. As I discussed in an earlier post, many deaf people, especially of an older generation, were subjected to relatively ineffective oral-only education, resulting in great frustration and poor educational outcomes. When they finally encountered ASL, it gave them a new lease on life. Those who were given the opportunity to learn ASL as a primary language generally fared much better. When I exchanged some comments with lagunazurfer, he predicted that Ben will suffer terribly because I am not bringing him up Deaf with ASL, in the same way that many other deaf children (and perhaps lagunazurfer himself) suffered. A charitable interpretation is that he is sincerely concerned about my son's supposedly inevitable suffering.

Also, remember that deaf people have been persecuted at various times throughout history. Under the Nazis, babies and children with congenital disabilities were often taken from their parents and killed through lethal injection or starvation, in order to rid the race of "impurities". A law was passed allowing doctors to perform forced abortions when they believed a fetus had a disability or deformity. Adults with disabilities were forcibly sterilized. There was a Nazi league for the deaf, led by a deaf Nazi, that advocated voluntary sterilization. For awhile, people with disabilities were rounded up and killed en masse in "shower" rooms that were later adapted for mass killings of Jews. Altogether, 200,000 people with disabilities were killed by the Nazis. (You can find more in a Google search. Also, read this article by Mishka Zena, a very influential and thoughtful Deaf blogger, about A.G. Bell's link to Nazi atrocities.)

It's a horrifying history, and it is not hard to understand why this would lead to a certain paranoia toward any attempt to address deafness medically, or more generally to treat it as a defect to be eliminated. I think that with regard to cochlear implantation, it is just that -- paranoia, rather than a rational fear of an actual threat of physical harm or oppression. Nevertheless, I can feel some sympathy on this point as well.

So that's my understanding of the various opposing perspectives. I hope I haven't portrayed them inaccurately. In the end, I am not persuaded. To the contrary, we have never even for a moment regretted our decision to get Ben a CI. Not a day goes by that I am not amazed by and thankful for this technology.


Melanie said...

I feel exactly the same way- except I never could have put it as eloquently as you did. Thank you! CI's are a medical miracle, if you ask me. I don't feel as if I have taken anything away from him by allowing him to have this technology.

phish said...

So I watched the "My son is deaf, finally!" video, and i think I felt very much the same about it as you did. Right now I'm in a public speaking class at school and the speeches that we just started working on are to be persuasion speeches. Well I was all set to use "why classical culture needs to have a more prominent role in our school systems" as my topic, until i saw this video. Now my topic is "Why cochlear implants are beneficial to the Deaf community". I always like to make my speeches about something that I'm passionate about, because I think it helps to make them more sincere (I also think it's part of why I have an A in that class :D). My initial topic idea was one I felt strongly about but I wasn't quite satisfied with it. Now that My topic is on something that I have a bit of a personal connection with I'm really excited to give this speech!!! :D

leah said...

I love your write-up and analysis of the video. It definitely makes one think about all the options available to our children. And may Ben speak Klingon well someday (that definitely gave me a chuckle)!

Lucas'Mommy said...

Beautiful post, and I totally agree. Not a day goes by that I don't marvel at the technology either.

lbre969903 said...

I just came upon your blog from one of your post on Listen Up and I absolutely agree with you on both of the post about "the video".. I had seen it and it angered me.. But you were able to put it into words so easily. My son is hard of hearing and if he needed a cochlear implant I would not hesitate to give him one and it is not so he can be more like me.

The one question I put out there is this: "If I can respect your decisions for your children by not putting amplification on them and using ASL as your first language then why I can I not get the same respect for the decisions I have made for my child?"

Great Post!