Market Power

Musings by an academic economist on the power of markets and the power over markets.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Surgical Implants for Deaf Children

The Wall Street Journal had this article last week on deaf children who, with surgical implants, can hear almost as well as if they weren't deaf.

So-called cochlear implants -- electronic devices surgically placed in the bone behind the ear -- have been around for two decades. But it was only five years ago that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the devices for use in children as young as 12 months. Now a new generation of children is entering deaf schools with the hope that they may someday hear and speak almost as naturally as those without hearing problems.
What is at issue is not these children's ability to hear, but the maintenance of a "deaf culture".
Some steeped in deaf culture don't see themselves as handicapped and view implants as an attempt to "fix" something that isn't broken. They especially oppose hearing parents deciding to get implants for their deaf children, believing kids should make the decision themselves when they get older. "This is a major intervention, and the ethics of operating on a healthy child can be questioned," says Harlan Lane, a psychologist at Northeastern University in Boston who has written many books about the deaf community.
But, according to the article, the implants work best when given to young children. I suppose this is the similar to how children who learn a foreign language when young do better with that foreign language as time goes on.

I can't help but think there is something else going on - the attempt to keep a livelihood that one has spent their entire adult life in and, as a result, know of no other way to make a living. The cochlear implants could eliminate the need for teachers and administrators in schools for the deaf. But the proponents talk about deaf culture as if we are talking about Inuit culture or Ojibwe culture. Perhaps, to them, it is a culture. But what about the kids? Given a choice, which would they prefer? Is it right for someone to deny someone the right to hear just so others can maintain a culture?