The Cochlear Implant Controversy
Shelli Delost and Sarah Lashley, MacMurray College, 2000
The field of Deaf Education has been riddled with controversy for hundreds of years. Sign language, Oralism, Cued Speech, and Inclusion are just a few issues which have, and will continue to, cause controversy in this field. The most recent controversy is literally being sparked by a tiny bundle of electrodes better known as a cochlear implant. In 1980, the first child was implanted with a single-channel cochlear implant at the House Ear Institute in Los Angeles, California (Osberger 28). This "technological breakthrough" suddenly divided two very important groups of people, the hearing parents and those associated with the Deaf community, leaving the child in the middle. As a result of this division, one group supports the use of cochlear implants to medically "repair" deafness in children with a sensorineural hearing loss while the other believes the children's natural condition should be emphasized. Those who support cochlear implants believe that normalization is the key to success for deaf children. On the other side, the Deaf community and others opposed to cochlear implants feel that deafness should be looked at as a cultural identity, not a disability. After describing the cochlear implant procedure, this paper explores the underlying values of these two competing views in an attempt to better understand and perhaps resolve the controversy.
The cochlea is located in the inner ear and is devoted to hearing ("Location"). It is a spiraling, fluid-filled tunnel which is lined with tiny hair cells. Signals travel through the fluid and hair cells to the auditory nerve and then to the brain where it is interpreted as meaningful information ("Location"). A sensorineural hearing loss occurs when the tiny hair cells have been damaged or are absent preventing the electrical impulses from reaching the other nerve fibers (Cochlear Corporation 5). A cochlear implant is an...