Creating Deaf Children?

This is a link to an article on how two women purposely set about making sure their baby would be born deaf.

OK, let’s ignore the fact they are lesbians because I don’t really think it has bearing on this issue. What do you think of the efforts to create a deaf child?

The fact that they’ve already had success “breeding for deafness” is suspicious to me. As I understand these things, the odds for it are still pretty poor, even if you specifically try for it.

I can’t help but wonder about the possibility that maybe their daugher could hear, and they deliberately deafened her. I even hate to think of such a thing.

I consider it a disturbing possibility though. I can’t imagine what must be going through these people’s heads that they’d seek to give their child a disability.

I would think that any parent worthy of the name would wish for every advantage possible for that child, and do their best to insure they got it.

One that would do otherwise isn’t really worthy of being a parent, IMO.
That’s my opinion.

I don’t think we have any right to stop them from the pursuit of breeding a deaf child though, though making a hearing child deaf would be a different story.

I read the article when it appeared in the Post. Before I started, I had mixed feelings about it. Afterwards, though, it made sense…it seems to me that most parents want to have kids they can relate to and this couple would have been best able to relate to a deaf child.

A few howevers:

I know that deafness is not something that can be tested in the womb. However, if it were, and if the couple had said they would only carry a deaf child to term, I would feel a lot differently.

I would also think about it differently if they were attempting for some trait carried by the majority of the population. Example: a black couple selecting a light-skinned donor.

It’s kind of the opposite of abortion based on ‘undesirable’ criteria.

Wonder what the reaction would be if a gay couple tried for a gay child (for example, using sperm/eggs from a gay person who has a number of gay relatives, going on the theory that being gay is genetic).

The only word I can think of: Eugenics.


I’m sorry, but I find this to be extremely unethical.

Ghastly. Utterly ghastly.

I mistakenly assumed that link went to the article originally written in the Post, and now I see that it went to something else. At any rate, Scylla, the biological mother had hereditary deafness and they chose a sperm donor with five generations of deafness in his family to raise the likelihood that their child was born deaf…they didn’t purposely deafen either one of their children.

Interestingly, I talked to a bunch of coworkers about this the day after the Post article appeared, and all of us agreed that it made sense. The story in the link puts a very negative spin on the whole thing.

The original Washington Post article:

Sharon, the mom, is deaf. Jehanne, the five-year-old daughter, is also deaf (she has the same donor-father as the new baby). So everybody here is deaf. And here’s the real reason behind all this.

So we’re supposed to be PC about this and say it’s a “cultural” thing. I don’t agree with it, but hey, I already thought they ought to license parenthood.

Doesn’t look like it.

But, still, geeeeeeez. :frowning: Scylla, go kiss your tot for me.

booklover-would I think it unethical to deliberately seek to bear a gay child?
Wouldn’t it be wrong to try and breed a child who was not gay?

Here’s the original Post story (will probably go offline in a few days, but for now…)

Let’s calm down before we start crying “eugenics”…I mean they can’t make a child themselves, so they’ve got to have somebody do it. I fail to see how randomly choosing a sperm doner out of a hat is that much more ethical. If the government was forceing us to make deaf babies, I’d take notice, but if two people that have no other way to create a baby want to choose a sperm doner with certain characteristic, so be it.

You have to remember that many deaf people don’t see deafness as a disabilty. Some even see it as an advantage- as in they don’t have to spend their brain power filtering out the cacophony of noises that surround us daily. Sign language is not simply a translation of English…it is a rich language of it’s own with it’s own style, sense of humor and culture. In a way this couple simply wants their children to be born in their culture. Since deafness isn’t life threatening and doesn’t ultra severly affect quality of life, I see no problem with this.

Not to mention the fact that why does having a child who hears automatically place him outside that “cultural identity?”

After all, you don’t have to be Deaf to know ASL?
Something else I thought of-suppose said children grow up and then decide they’re at a disadvantage-and perhaps decide to sue? Would that be possible?

I don’t know-it just seems creepy.

personally, I think it’s pretty bad already that they chose names like Jehanne and Gauvin, but whatever floats your boat…

I am in shock that anyone could be defending this in the slightest. People who delibretley disable a child need to be locked up, or have their reproductive organs disabled.

How is this any different than disbling your child when he is 5 years old?

I will scream “Eugenics”, because that is what it is.

Also, any doctor that supports this should be stripped of his/her liscence. It is that simple.

Well, they obviously don’t know how bad these names sound.


As an audiologist, I just wanted to add a small correction to part of the article that was linked in the OP:

Actually, that’s not entirely accurate. Otoacoustic emissions (OAE) testing can be performed as early as within a few hours after birth (although 10-12 hours would be better since it gives the ear canals a chance to clear out a bit). Although OAE testing cannot determine a person’s auditory thresholds, it can determine the extent of outer hair cell function. If OAEs are present, that would mean that the child has normal auditory function, or at worst, a mild hearing loss.

Auditory brainstem response (ABR) testing can also be performed during early infancy. The best ABR test conditions require the infant to be sedated, and that will mean waiting until the child is about 3-6 months old. It is possible to do ABR tests without sedation, but the baby must be quite still throughout the testing process, which means that the ideal situation for a non-sedated testing is a sleeping baby. There are screening versions of the ABR test in use in many hospitals (I’ve used them), and I can’t see why a screening version of the ABR can’t be used on that child in the first place.

As for the decision made by this couple, I think it is morally indefensible. To deliberately INCREASE the chances for deafness in the child is an appalling concept to me…and I speak as someone who was born severely-to-profoundly deaf. I just find this situation to be immensely disturbing. I simply cannot see how deafness can be preferable to hearing.

This whole thing bothers me, and I think the reason it does is that it goes against everything I’ve ever known about parents who love their kids.

The idea being that a parent who loves his/her kid wants that kid to grow up better off and have more than the parent did when the parent was a kid. That a parent wants to give his/her kid every opportunity for a wonderful, happy, successful life.

I’m not arguing that deaf people cannot have wonderful, happy, successful lives, so if it sounded that way I apologize. What I’m saying is that deafness does make life somewhat harder for the deaf person than for the hearing person. Communication with the population at large becomes far more of an effort, and really it’s a hurdle that has to be jumped. And I can’t figure out why someone would deliberately stick a hurdle in front of their kid.

I’m not deaf; however, for the first several years of my life I was legally blind. It made things like learning colors, letters, shapes, numbers and drawing very much harder for me than for most young kids. The sharpness of my mind wasn’t the problem, but being unable to see these things in front of me caused a great big hurdle that thanks to years and years of very good doctors I eventually passed and now can see. My parents had no idea that their first kid would be born with a physical disability, and no way in hell would’ve ever TRIED to give me that cross to bear even though they both have poor eyesight.

So it has a high ‘why the hell’ factor for me. Why deliberately try to make your kid face adversity?

What’s creepy isn’t that parents want a child they can relate to, what’s creepy is that we can now decide whether a person lives or dies before birth.

I went to a public high school with a sizable deaf minority: about one in 11 kids was somewhere from hard of hearing to absolutely deaf. There was a wing of the school for intense, deaf-specific classes and therapy for those who needed it. There were interpreters for those who were mainstreamed. It was probably more humane than many situations in that children where accomodated by ability and desire to mainstream.

One girl was the “poster girl” for the program - although not by her own intention. She took all mainstream classes, with interpreters as needed. She tutored other deaf kids and and volunteered as an interpretor for the deaf-and-blind. She took AP courses, was a member of the national honor society, maintained a 4.0 grade average and played varsity soccer and track-and-field. She did not speak foreign languages but she was fluent reading and writing Spanish and German, and had taken Latin as well. Her speech was difficult to understand - she had no hearing left at all - but she could communicate when out and about in the world.

When she left high school it was straight to Gaulledet for her. The hearing school counselors were devasted - “Why would you want to go to a school for the deaf when you could go to any school in the country?”

Her answer? “I’m tired of struggling. I want to go somewhere where I fit in and they sign my language.” ALL of us who were her friends - both deaf and hearing - were 100% behind her decision. Because we saw how hard she struggled and how the adults saw her as a freak, the “Deaf Girl Who Overcame Deafness”. How stupid - you can’t “overcome” something like that, you just learn to adapt as best you can. It happened that she was very good at adapting.

Many parents want their child to be perfect - but what if the child is not? What does it say when society deems it OK to “flush and start over” for a defect? Particularly when, as in the case of deafness, the defect may make live harder but those who have the condition find their lives can be wonderful, meaningful, and well worth living? What does it say to a child with such a condition the first time they encounter the opinion “I’d rather be dead than that way”? Or - “I’d rather kill my child than have them that way”?

And what does it say to those who become deaf later in life? Knowing that there IS a Deaf community out there, that I could still have a wonderful life and socialize with others, made the idea of deafness much less frightening to me. Does that mean I would CHOOSE to be deaf? No, of course not - but it could happen, and if it did, I know I could adapt.

Does that mean we should NEVER eliminate genetic defects, or abort a fetus? Not necessarially – there are some things that prevent all hope of a normal life. I don’t see much point, for instance, in bringing to term a baby with no developed brain. But we shouldn’t be too ready to dispose of people with ANY defect or imperfection.

And keep in mind that some deaf parents have had their hearing children taken from them, on theory that while they’re perfectly acceptable to raise a deaf child they are somehow inadequate to raise a hearing child. When both parents are deaf they DO have to make concessions to a hearing child in the same way hearing parents have to make adjustments for a deaf child. There are concerns about language acquisition. How do you communicate with a hearing child’s teachers at the hearing school? How do you know a hearing teen isn’t mixed up with a bad crowd? These two women are hardly the first deaf parents to be relieved at a child’s deafness - just more open about than usual.

There is also historical baggage. We would react with horror at the idea of hearing children sitting in a school room with gags in their mouths, but historically deaf children, in an attempt to discourage signing and encourage vocal communication, have had their hands tied in classrooms, which is much the same thing as gagging someone who can hear. It’s hardly any wonder that some of the Deaf are distrustful or even hostile towards the hearing world?

Ask yourself, if you found out 3 months into a pregnancy that your child would be born profoundly deaf, what would your reaction be? Would you consider abortion? Would you make the best of it? Would you want to live in a society where someone other than you could determine whether or not you have children based on the odds of you producing a less than perfect child?

I, for one, support them. I didn’t have the chance to read the story in the Post magazine - will have to follow that link before it expires.

I recently read a surprisingly good book by Oliver Sacks called Seeing Voices. It’s a couple of longish essays he wrote about the deaf, and for me it was quite an eye-opener. The psychological aspect of it was interesting, showing that deafness is not a hindrance to proper mental development - using sign language develops the linguistic centers of the brain just as fully as learning a spoken language.

I think the one thing that the book made most clear to me is that deafness is not a real obstacle to becoming a fully functioning human being in society. The fact that Gallaudet University exists, and has been quite successful for over a century, testifies to this. As a matter of fact, I was quite surprised to see Tom Rarus mentioned in this thread. I don’t know if the Post story goes into it at all, but he was one of the four leaders of the student strike that shut down Gallaudet in 1988 and resulted in the appointment of the first deaf university president since the college’s founder. If deaf people can become successful political activists for causes they believe in, then I’m pretty sure there’s nothing they can’t do if they want to do it.

Overall, then, I think it’s quite evident that deafness is not a fault, and it should not be looked upon as if it were. It does not significantly reduce the potential for quality of life, like perhaps spina bifida, mental retardation, or any other of a host of conditions rightly regarded as birth defects would. If these two women want deaf children, I feel they’re entitled to that choice, for their children may be the ones who help us overcome our own misconceptions about something hasn’t affected us.

While this can easily be dismissed as another version of the “differently abled” PC nonsense that occasionally makes the rounds, I’m troubled by this. Is this really very much different than what some strict cultural and religious groups do?

Cultural values are important and should be respected but the issue is not so clear to me when one person is making permanent choices for someone else, even when it’s a parent making the choices. Is it worse to intentionally create a deaf child than it is to raise one in semi-isolation while providing no more than an eigth-grade education? As a practical matter, being educationally crippled probably has a greater effect on a child’s life than being deaf.

I must say that I disagree with Olentzero’s opinion that deafness is not a “fault.” This is simply false. It is objectively true that people who can hear can do things that people who cannot hear are unable to do. Therefore, being deaf is a disadvantage. Perhaps the most “advantaged” people in this context are non-deaf children raised by deaf parents.

This raises an interesting question which, I suppose, isn’t really a hijack. How far is it appropriate to go in order to propogate one’s “culture.” To me, culture, at least ideally, ought to be a set of choices. Should someone, even a parent, be allowed to permanently impose those choices on someone else? We often hear one group or another complaining that “X is ruining our culture.” Aren’t they really just saying that their culture is unable to compete with X? Should they be allowed to artificially limit their children’s choices to ensure that their culture survives?

Perhaps that’s the biggest problem that I have with what these people are attempting to do. What they’re really saying is, “Deaf culture can’t really compete with “hearing” culture. If my child can hear, he or she will have no interest in deaf culture. Therefore, I’ve got to artificially limit his or her choice in advance.”

I’m extremely skeptical about this. Do you have a cite?

As to the OP, I find the reasoning of the couple extremely distasteful, but not quite immoral because the child is not being the victim of any action. In this situation at least, the child was never harmed because the child would be deaf (at least genetically “deaf” if that makes any sense) from conception onward. The deaf genes are all bundled up with all the others that make the child genetically unique. There was no genetic manipulation of the fetus within the womb. The couple simply sought out a donor who would maximize the chances of deaf offspring. It is not eugenics; it’s voluntary mate selection with a bizarre twist.

I must admit that the insulation and self imposed isolation of the deaf community baffles me. The fact that these two women would be overjoyed if the baby is born with a disability furthers my befuddlement, but I will defend these two women’s right to select the donor as they see fit. I find their reasoning odd, but we have no right to dictate reproductive partners. That would be eugenics.

This of course is not an endorsement for parents to genetically alter fetuses in utero or selectively abort children with “undesirable” traits.

On preview I have caught olentzero’s post, and I must disagree slightly. It is almost as if you are claining, as some do, that deafness is not a disability. Deafness may not be a “fault”, but it is a disability. The deaf are unable (dis-able if you will) to properly appreciate Beethoven, participate in accoustical discussions on how the ping! of an aluminum bat isn’t the same as the crack1 of a wooden one, hear the man behind them yell “look out!” before a piano falls out a second story window on to their head, or communicate as effortlessly in day to day life as the rest of us do. It is these limitations that caused the deaf culture to arise and bind so tightly to itself to begin with. Yes, they can live quality lives, but so can all disabled people, even those with mental retardation.

Utterly frightening story. I’m 23 & disabled since birth - I have a neural tube defect, Spina Bifida. Am I happy with who I am, the person I am? Yeah, generally. If I had my druthers, would I choose to remain a paraplegic? Hell no, it sucks. Most people can walk unimpeded, just as most can hear/see/etc. unimpeded. We who are seriously impeded are often at a disadvantage living in the global community. That’s why I was so horribly upset when I learned a cousin was born with Down Syndrome. That’s why I refuse to call deafness, paraplegia, blindness, etc. anything other than what it is; a DISability. A serious impediment. Can disabled people adapt to an able-bodied world to become happy, productive people? Of course we can! Is a disability a huge obstacle to living in a non-disabled world? Yeah, it can be & often is. I wouldn’t wish a disability on anyone. Even if I were to live in a tightly-knit community of paraplegics, I’d still have to deal with the outside world on some level, as I imagine Jehanne will. I think that in purposely trying for a kid with a disability, you’re limiting that kid’s choices in so many vital ways; academic choices, romantic choices, entertainment choices, transportation choices, career/job choices, ad nauseum. Ugh. Scary.