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Choosing deafness

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Dialectes Have you heard, Archivistes, that a couple in America wanted, and arranged to have, a deaf child?1

Archivistes Why and how did they do that?

Dialectes Well, they are a lesbian couple who are both deaf and they wanted children through donor insemination. As sperm donor they chose a deaf friend who could trace deafness back through five generations of his family. Their first child, a girl born 5 years ago, is deaf and now they have a boy who also is deaf.

Archivistes As so often, Dialectes, you have explained how but not why.

Dialectes They wanted their children to be deaf like themselves.

Archivistes It must surely be wrong to impose a handicap on an unborn child.

Dialectes They argue that the harm that results from being deaf is socially imposed.2 The deaf are a minority group who are discriminated against as are girls and black people. Nobody thinks it wrong to want a girl or a black baby.

Archivistes But the deaf can’t hear.

Dialectes Quite so, Archivistes.

Archivistes How can it be argued that being unable to hear is desirable?

Dialectes Deaf people have to suffer the unthinking prejudices of hearing people that deny them opportunities that could be opened to them. They may find comfort in their own deaf community and some, it seems, believe that membership of this community is so rewarding that their children should also be members even though the condition of membership is lack of hearing.

Archivistes Are all the disadvantages of deafness socially imposed?

Dialectes Many are, but not all. Being unable to hear music, birdsong, a baby crying, a car horn, or a fire alarm are not social impositions. Of course we should do as much as possible to minimise the disadvantages but it seems unlikely that they can be eliminated.

Archivistes When does an impairment become a disadvantage?

Dialectes When it prevents the impaired person doing what she or he wants to do.

Archivistes Would it be justified to select for impairment if parents and others believed that the impairment would not be a disadvantage?

Dialectes You have not listened carefully, Archivistes. I am the only one who can decide what I want to do. To select for impairment is to deprive the child of choice; it is an infringement of liberty. It is unlikely that a child would choose to have no choice.

Archivistes Many people with handicaps lead rewarding, successful, and apparently happy lives, Dialectes.

Dialectes That is true, but acknowledging it and admiring such people is a far cry from wanting a child to be born impaired. That is something we should not wish for.