Ethical dimension of paediatric cochlear implantation

Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics 22 (4):337-349 (2001)
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Abstract

In congenitally or prelingually deaf childrencochlear implantation is open to seriousethical challenge. The ethical dimension ofthis technology is closely related to both asocial standard of quality of life and to theuncertainty of the overall results of cochlearimplantation. Uncertainty with regards theacquisition of oral communicative skills.However, in the western world, available datasuggest that deafness is associated with thelowest educational level and the lowest familyincome. Notwithstanding the existence of aDeaf-World, deafness should be considered as ahandicap. Therefore, society should provide themeans for the fulfilment of a deaf child'sspecific needs.For the time being there is no definitiveanswer with regard the best way to rehabilitatea particular deaf child. Therefore,communitarian values may be acceptable. If thedeaf child parents' decide not to implant,their decision should be respected. Guardiansare entitled to determine which standard ofbest interest to use in a specificcircumstance. They are the proper judges ofwhat (re)habilitation process is best for theirdeaf child. However, most deaf children areborn to two hearing parents. Probably, theywill not be acculturated in the Deaf-World. Itfollows that cochlear implantation is awelcomed (re)habilitation technology.If auditory (re)habilitation will in the futureprovide the necessary communicative skills, inparticular oral language acquisition, customs,values and attitudes of the hearing worldshould be regarded as necessary to accomplish adeaf child's right to an open future. Ifcochlear implantation technology will provideall deaf children with the capacity to developacceptable oral communicative skills –whatever the hearing status of the family andthe cultural environment – then auditory(re)habilitation will be an ethical imperative.

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