Cochlear Implants: What’s Ethical?

Tonight, a conversation with my friend turned into an ethical-questioning debate between philosophers when it came to the topic of Cochlear Implants (CIs). Of course, CIs should never be given to little babies, at such an age where they do not have a say. Getting a CI should only be acceptable when the patient personally requests it, preferably when they are mature enough to make decisions of their own. I would say the popular opinion of that age range is 13-18. That seems more ethical than to drill a hole into a baby’s head, right?

It’s not the same opinion everywhere else. While discussing the above with my friend/philosopher, I realized this: hearing parents still have a hard time grasping this simple concept of ethics—Why? One of their leading arguments could be: “If we wait until our deaf child is old and mature enough to make a decision of their own, we will risk being far too late for them to speak and listen as well as a hearing person.”

How true that is! Of course, I still don’t think that’s a sufficient reason to drill a hole in anyone’s head. However, some hearing parents do not think the same way I do. What can we tell them? They’re actually right about their grown up, CI-less child losing the advantage of being able to function like a hearing person forever and permanently.

My friend/philosopher proposed the idea that when a child is able of cognitive thinking, this is the age they are able to decide what they want (ages 4 to 5+?). Despite the suggestion of asking the child at a very early age what they desire, her argument struck logic. It does make sense, and maybe you’ll even agree that it’s the best way to handle such a debatable situation of drilling a hole in a child’s head.

Although it is true that at ages 4-5, it will be too late for a child to benefit 100% from a CI, yet we came to the conclusion that it is the most ethical way to go. Once your deaf child is able to communicate and make decisions of their own, you should ask them what their thoughts are on getting a CI. Make sure they are aware of everything there is to getting CIs, such as the procedure, the benefits and risks, and so forth. Then, let it be completely up to the child- if they show obvious doubt or discomfort, you have your answer. If they are hesitant and unsure, you will support their indecisiveness and be patient until they have a final decision. If they are ready and eager for a CI, which in most fair cases they actually probably won’t be, then you have the open door to “fix” your kid.

Now, to be clear, I do not support the idea of anyone getting CIs. I believe that the deafness we are given is a blessing to our personal growth as a person in our lifetime. I am conscious that many hearing adults may view their deaf child as something to cry about, and I would hope to give them this proposed solution mentioned earlier. Because I am conscious that many of the hearing parents will want to do whatever it takes to fix their kid’s deafness, I’d encourage this plan upon them. If you still want a CI for your child, at least let it be up to them once they can communicate their thoughts and feelings with you. That, at least to me, is the most ethical thing to do.

Still bothered at the fact your 5-year-old child may be behind grade level and/or lost their place in this world due to the lack of CIs at an early age? I have an easy solid answer for that. Just like any other Deaf person will tell you, learn and become fluent in ASL, and take your child to a deaf school. You will be introduced to a beautiful culture, language, and community of the deaf, which I’d say is a whole different world. It sure would beat struggling every day to have a normal conversation with your child at the dinner table.

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