Better off deaf?
University of Melbourne Author/sSPARROW, ROBERT
AffiliationArts: Department of Philosophy
CitationsSparrow, Robert (2002) Better off deaf?.
Access StatusOpen Access
The papers are considered Draft Only and are not to be cited without the permission of the author. Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics Working Paper number 2002/11.
Criticism of Sharon Duchesneau and Candy McCullough's decision, reported in the Washington Post, to seek out and employ a sperm donor with a family history of deafness in order to maximise their chances of having a deaf child, has concentrated on two aspects of this decision. The first is that they are consciously seeking the birth of a child that the vast majority of people would consider to be"disabled". The second argument, which may or may not presume the first, questions their decision to bring a child into the world who is likely to have greatly reduced opportunities by virtue of being deaf. In my response to the controversy surrounding the case, I want to concentrate on the second of these arguments. The idea that deafness need not be a disability and can instead be an entry point to a minority culture coalesced around a signed language, and the foundation of a cultural identity as"Deaf", is one that I am personally sympathetic to. But this argument has been well made elsewhere, by Harlan Lane and others, and for reasons of space I shall not repeat it here.1 In any case, settling the question as to whether D/deafness is a disability or a cultural identity does not in itself resolve the question of the ethics of deliberately seeking to bring about the birth of a D/deaf child. One may concede that deafness is a disability but hold that this is unimportant because deaf children can have sufficient opportunities in life to justify bringing them into the world. Alternatively, one may agree that deafness is a cultural identity, but still be concerned for the opportunities available to the child as a member of that culture. The question of the obligations of parents with regard to the opportunities available to the children they choose to bring into the world remains crucial.
Keywordsdeafness; disability; moral education; deaf child; deaf culture; deaf parents
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