Cochlear implants, luddism and unnecessary suffering

If you know someone who wears a cochlear implant, you know what a difference it makes in their quality of life. Yet, research by prof. Huggy Rao of Stanford Business School shows that adoption of the technology was appallingly slow due to cultural resistance:

[…] the deaf rights movement slowed adoption of the cochlear implant—thought of by its makers as a cure for deafness because children who used it could more easily acquire language skills—by painting it as an innovation that presaged the loss of sign language and the destruction of the deaf community. In France, for example, a deaf coalition called Sourds en Colère (Deaf Anger) organized demonstrations against doctors who promoted cochlear implants […] [Deaf rights groups] used unconventional techniques—such as performing mime skits depicting French doctors performing operations on blood-covered children—to arouse public interest.

3 thoughts on “Cochlear implants, luddism and unnecessary suffering

  1. Things are not so simple. My ex wife is daughter to a deaf couple, both born deaf. The deaf community in Milan is very unite and active. They have a lot of social life. In USA the deaf community has an University, The Gallaudet University.

    Italian deafs communicate with LIS (Lingua Italiana dei Segni, Italian Sign Language) and they feel that a cochlear implant in very young age would impair development of born deafs. A cochlear implant is a protesis, and the implatn of a protesis turn a born deaf in a “lesser god’s son”, as the movie say. Very different is the case for adults or young people who turn deaf when they have already learned oral linguage.

    Having seen how born deafs interact between them and how their social life is rich and variated (for instance, 15 years ago at the dawn of GSM phones they was the very pioneer of sms use in cellular phones, when it seemed a strange option to the majority of phone users), I think the case for cochlear implants is not so clear cut… You must also add that cochlear implants are expensive and not fully effective, and Medical Industry may have a vested interest in promoting them.

  2. Gianni, your point is well taken. I do think it is a legitimate choice for deaf people to only socialize with other deaf people (not many others, unfortunately, learn sign language). But it stikes me as an odd limitation, as if redheads decided to only hang out with other redheads, or people over 6 feet tall wanted to only be friends with other people who are also 6 feet tall. If someone wants to become a monk or nun and live in seclusion with other monks or nuns in a cloister, that’s perfectly fine and there can be joy, fulfillment and bliss in that choice. But if someone decides that their child should become a monk or a nun, regardless of the child’s inclinations, and has them locked up in a cloister, without giving them the choice to live in the outside world, doesn’t this cause unnecessary suffering?

  3. In my experience born deaf people are well integrated with “those who hear” (“udenti”, as they call us in the Italian deaf community). They are a sort of bilingual people: between them they use Sign Language; with others they read lips and use oral language, someone very appropriately, someone with a strange accent.

    When you see in public transport someone who gesticulate in a visible manner, they often are deafs who talk animately. They live normal lives.

    Moreover, born deaf people consistently look younger than same age “normal” people, and their face is usually smoother… maybe because, living in deep silence, they are much less stressed by urban cacophony 🙂

    I’m not saying that they are to be envied… but having seen them for years in day-by-day life and in social activities, I think born deaf peoples are normal people, with some limitation, like blind people.

    The case is widely different for adults and young adults turned deaf for illness or accident. To them, hearing aids may be of great help.

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