Sunday, 13 April 2008

Deaf to reason

I see that the government has caved in to pressure from various "deaf rights" campaigners, and removed a clause in the proposed Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, which would have prevented people undergoing IVF treatment from using embryo screening to ensure that they had a deaf child. Deafness was originally included among the "serious medical conditions" which the bill prevents parents from favouring.

Personally, I am astounded to learn that anyone could actually want to have a deaf child, in preference to a hearing child. Deafness places those who suffer from it at a profound disadvantage within society. Since the primary method of interpersonal communication is, always has been, and always will be, verbal, then this disadvantaging of those who cannot engage in verbal communication is inevitable. We can make every effort to minimise the disadvantage, but we can never eliminate it. Because of their inability to communicate verbally, deaf people will always have fewer opportunities, educationally, career-wise, and personally, than those who are able to hear.
Besides which, the ability to hear is good in itself: it can provide those who possess it with a great abundance of positive experiences, which are simply not available to deaf people. To deliberately choose a child that will be deprived of the ability to hear is cruel, to say the least.

Deaf groups, who have evidently understood that the road to success lies through victimhood, have claimed that it is discriminatory to prevent parents from choosing to have a deaf child, while allowing them to choose to have a hearing child. And maybe they're right (although I would point out that deaf people are not actually being prevented from doing anything that a hearing person can do). But discrimination is not, in itself, a bad thing. Whenever we select one option over another we discriminate; indeed, the deaf groups seek to allow parents to discriminate against hearing children in the selection of embryos. And when one option is so clearly preferable to the alternative, as is the case here, then discrimination is perfectly good and reasonable. Of course, one might well have concerns over the "designer baby" scenarios that might come about as a result of allowing IVF patients to select embryos at all, but that is another matter...

Nor does it devalue the lives of deaf people generally to say that we should prevent parents from favouring deaf embryos. There is nothing unreasonable in saying that we can respect people as individuals, while also acknowledging that they have a condition which we would prefer as few people as possible to have.

The desire to select the characteristics of children in the manner proposed is, I think, indicative of a view of children that classifies them as little more than politicised fashion accessories. Consider the following case study, from the Telegraph article linked to above:

Paula Garfield and Tomato Lichy, are at the centre of the debate over the new fertility legislation. Both are deaf – as is their daughter Molly, three.

They would like a second child, but because Paula is in her 40s, she may need IVF treatment.

They want the right to choose to have a deaf child and say it is discriminatory to ban deaf parents from doing this. Mr Lichy said:

"Being deaf is not about being disabled. It's about being part of a linguistic minority. We're proud of the language we use and the community we live in."

It would seem that Miss Garfield and Mr Lichy's aim in selecting their prospective child would be not so much about giving it the best possible start in life (which would, of course, necessitate the child being able to interact with the majority of those around it), as about justifying their self-perception as members of an oppressed minority. If people do have children, then it is self-evidently preferable that they regard them as ends in themselves, rather than as tools for making political points. This does not appear to be the case with those who wish to inflict deafness upon their offspring.


JuliaM said...

"Personally, I am astounded to learn that anyone could actually want to have a deaf child, in preference to a hearing child."

Just read some of the literature on it, particularly from the States, where it seems to have been a topic over there for a while.

You'll go from astounded, to furious, to despairing, and back to astounded again, in no time...

Alex said...

The discovery of a "right" to conceive a deaf child on purpose, shows how completely insane the theory of human rights has become. There is no such thing as "deaf rights". There are, some people think, "natural rights" which belong to all human beings by nature and independent of positive law.

What this case illustrates is how the theory of natural rights has become refashioned by the rhetoric of human rights as a dogma of modern liberalism.

Homophobic Horse said...

I oppose the whole thing on the basis of my opposition to abortion.

I think mankind is being abolished. What with the recent approval for animal-human admixture we have recently seen.

Anonymous said...

I wonder could a case be made for this being child abuse? Given that the point and purpose of this process is to ensure the child is deaf, when it needn't be so, surely this means that the 'parents' are deliberately depriving the child of one of the 5 senses. If I took a drill or needle to a child's head and destroyed its auditory functions, I'd deserve to hang. Why a difference here?