Deafness, Culture, and Choice
Journal of Medical Ethics 2002 October; 28(5): 284-285
The recent controversy surrounding the choice, by a deaf lesbian couple, to have children who were themselves deaf, has focused attention on the ethics of choosing (apparent) disabilities for children. Deaf activists argue that deafness is not a disability, but instead the constitutive condition of access to a rich culture. Being deaf carries disadvantages with it, but these are a product of discrimination, not of the condition itself. It is, however, implausible to think that all the disadvantages which stem from deafness are social in origin. Moreover, though it may be true that being deaf carries with it the important compensation of access to a rich culture, no physical condition is required for such access. Cultures are simply the kind of things to which we are born, and therefore to which the children of deaf parents, hearing or deaf, normally belong. Thus these parents are making a mistake in choosing deafness for their children. Given their own experience of isolation as children, however, it is a mistake which is understandable, and our reaction to them ought to be compassion, not condemnation.
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