This article examines ethical dilemmas related to cochlear implant surgery in children. These dilemmas arise from the existence of a linguistic and cultural minority called the Deaf World. Organizations of culturally Deaf adults in the United States and abroad, as well as the World Federation of the Deaf, have, on ethical grounds, strongly criticized the practice of cochlear implant surgery in children. Three ethical dilemmas are examined. (1) The surgery is of unproven value for the main significant benefit sought, language acquisition, whereas the psychological, social, and linguistic risks have not been assessed. Thus the surgery appears to be innovative, but innovative surgery on children is ethically problematic. (2) It is now widely recognized that the signed languages of the world are full-fledged natural languages, and the communities that speak those languages have distinct social organizations and cultures. Deaf culture values lead to a different assessment of pediatric cochlear implant surgery than do mainstream (hearing) values, and both sets of values have standing. (3) The fields of otology and audiology want to provide cochlear implants to Deaf children but also, their leaders say, want to protect Deaf culture; those appear to be conflicting goals in principle because, if there were perfect implants, the ranks of the Deaf World would diminish.
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