Tuesday, September 29, 2009

My thoughts on *that* video, Episode One

Well, by now you might have had a chance to watch "My son is deaf, finally!" posted by lagunazurfer on youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-YN5Fdz1En0. If you haven't, you should do so before reading on, because I'm going to spoil the ending.

Yup, it's quite a video. It is, in the end, a "prank" -- and not a very funny one. The actor (who I assume is lagunazurfer himself) purports to be a father describing a recent operation to remove his son's cochleas. In the end, he reveals that nothing of the sort happened, and suggests that such an operation is the moral equivalent of cochlear implant surgery, and any outrage we might have felt toward him should be directed toward parents who implant their children.

This video made the rounds at listenup and cicircle recently. It didn't get much discussion at the former; one person wrote in saying that it was a good video, and she obviously agreed with the message. As you can imagine, it provoked a very different reaction on cicircle, which is comprised exclusively of CI families.

It is a good video, in the sense that it is well-made and it has obviously been effective at stirring up emotions and controversy. At first, it seems like a pretty good argument, an argument by analogy. Hearing parents are dismayed to discover that their child is deaf, and they implant him so that he will be "more like them." How is this different from deaf parents surgically altering their child to be more like themselves? Therefore any objections that the viewer might naturally have toward the latter would apply to the former.

I don't think it's a very good analogy, but of course that's premised on the assumption that hearing is a good thing. It's an ability that almost all human beings possess, that in fact many animals possess, and with good reason. There's no doubt that it is far easier to navigate through a difficult and dangerous world when you can hear. In modern society, it is far easier to get an education or a job, buy something, go to the dentist, and in general interact with other human beings if, like them, you can hear. And indeed the blogs and online posts of deaf people are full of complaints (perfectly reasonable and valid ones) about the daily hardships of being deaf in a hearing world. So a safe, effective surgical procedure that restores some measure of the ability to hear is not the same as surgery that takes away that ability.

Another obvious bone to pick with the video's "logic" is the claim that parents should at least wait until a child is of an age to make informed consent before imposing cochlear implant surgery on him or her. The idea is that the child should have a choice. The problem with this is that waiting has the effect of eliminating choice, as Leah explained in a comment to my earlier post. The longer the auditory system goes without stimulation, the less effective the implant is. Children who are implanted in middle childhood or later are often able to make only limited use of the CI, and it always takes years of therapy to make any progress at all. This might still be seen as a successful outcome, depending on the expectations of the family, but it's nothing like the outstanding success that Ben has achieved already, a little over a year post-activation, with almost no therapy to speak of. So waiting until a child is old enough to consent means waiting until learning to hear effectively with a CI is no longer a realistic option. How is this a choice?

As usual, I'm out of time but certainly not out of words; I have much more to say on the subject. I'll save it for a follow-up post, in which I discuss the context and motivation for the video. Suffice it to say for now that I am actually very sympathetic to the Deaf perspective on CIs, in light of the historical and contemporary context, even though I disagree rather vehemently with it and the alarmingly vicious tone some of them take when expressing it.


Melanie said...

So well said, as usual.

leah said...

Very well stated! I think the video didn't get much of a discussion on listen-up because it is such an emotional topic. Also, parents of kids who are "only" hard of hearing might feel uncomfortable taking a stand on an issue that doesn't affect us personally. I know we would give Nolan a cochlear implant if his hearing deteriorated someday- for the same reasons we give him hearing aids now. It gives him greater access to the world at large, increases opportunity and choice, and takes nothing away from him.

While some members of the Deaf community would argue that these children are being denied Deaf culture, the truth is that all cultures evolve over time. Since the majority of deaf/hoh children are given auditory access at a young age, the deaf community of the future will contain many children who are able to sign, speak, and listen.

I guess I'm a proponent of "more is better," lol.

rouchi said...

I think it was a thought provoking video though. This issue is such , we cannot come to a single conclusion as lots of factors affect the final decision.What is important is that CI or HA, we need good speech therapy so that the child is able to lead a normal life.Having a CI and not having therapy has no speech in the cases that I have seen here. It is just another gadget. A good HA only has an advantage that we can update with the advancement in technology without having to do surgery again.

Discpad said...

Julia, the Deafie jihadists are all-too happy to argue about CI's for infants.

But, they will not take on those who are deaf from birth, older in life, and (like my girlfriend) get implanted.

But, notice the Deafies don't tangle with late-deafened people like me (I'm about to get implanted)? They know we know the jig is up, and they see people who are stone-cold deaf pick up their cell phone and talk to strangers, without a clue the person on the line has no hearing

Case in point: The most successful deaf person on the planet: Rush Limbaugh