Ethical issues in cochlear implant surgery: an exploration into disease, disability, and the best interests of the child

Kennedy Inst Ethics J. 1997 Sep;7(3):231-51. doi: 10.1353/ken.1997.0024.


This paper examines ethical issues related to medical practices with children and adults who are members of a linguistic and cultural minority known as the DEAF-WORLD. Members of that culture characteristically have hearing parents and are treated by hearing professionals whose values, particularly concerning language, speech, and hearing, are typically quite different from their own. That disparity has long fueled a debate on several ethical issues, most recently the merits of cochlear implant surgery for DEAF children. We explore whether that surgery would be ethical if implants could deliver close to normal hearing for most implanted children, thereby diminishing the ranks of the DEAF-WORLD. The ethical implications of eugenic practices with the DEAF are explored, as are ethical quandaries in parental surrogacy for DEAF children, and their parallels in transracial adoption.

MeSH terms

  • Adoption
  • African Americans
  • Attitude
  • Child*
  • Cochlear Implants*
  • Communication
  • Cultural Diversity*
  • Disabled Persons*
  • Disease*
  • Equipment and Supplies*
  • Ethical Analysis
  • Ethics*
  • Eugenics
  • General Surgery*
  • Genetic Counseling
  • Health*
  • Hearing Disorders*
  • Humans
  • Jurisprudence
  • Minority Groups*
  • Moral Obligations
  • Parental Consent
  • Parents
  • Physicians
  • Public Policy
  • Reproduction
  • Risk Assessment*
  • Risk*
  • Self Concept
  • Social Change
  • Social Justice
  • Social Responsibility
  • Social Values*
  • Third-Party Consent
  • United States
  • Whites