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Friday, 12 April, 2002, 10:41 GMT 11:41 UK
Couple "choose" to have a deaf baby: Should it be allowed?
A lesbian couple in the US have provoked strong criticism by deliberately choosing to have a deaf baby.
Sharon Duchesneau and Candy McCullough, who have both been deaf since birth, were turned down by a series of sperm banks they approached looking for a donor suffering from congenital deafness.
The couple, who have been together for eight years, then approached a family friend who was totally deaf, and had five generations of deafness in his family.
Sharon Duchesneau gave birth to baby Gauvin McCullough, who is now four-months-old, and has a slight amount of hearing in one ear.
Should they have been allowed to go ahead with their wish?
This Talking Point has now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
I find it disgusting that people could be allowed to make such a life-long decision for their child. In a civilized society we would never accept a parent's right to limit a child's abilities, such as the ability to read, why should we allow people to engineer their children without the ability to hear? Children are not property, they are human beings and should have every opportunity that life affords them, without the scope of those opportunities being predetermined.
I was born deaf. My parents, brother, grandparents, auntie and uncle are all deaf. I often imagine what it would like if I was born "hearing" and I strongly believe that I would be a very different person, not necessarily for the better. I feel that my character is more stronger and defined than I would be if I was born hearing. If I was given the choice of being born deaf or born hearing, I would seriously choose being born deaf because I cannot imagine my world being a hearing person. I do not miss all of the 'sob-sob' beautiful sounds of birds singing, etc AT ALL. I believe that this world is meant to have people of different kinds, whether it may be sexual gender, creed, religion, disability, etc, etc - this makes what our world is as it is today.
Believe it or not, we, deaf people, are proud to be deaf, despite the barriers and obstacles we face. We are put on this world to face barriers and obstacles whether we like it or not. This is part of character-building. I applaud the deaf couple to have their choice amid these prejudiced societies in the world today.
These parents could have chosen to raise a child born deaf, instead they chose to chose to give birth to a child born deaf. If that is not criminal, I don't know what is. Theirs was truly a selfish choice and I wonder how they will explain that to a child. And I wonder how the child will feel about it as an adult.
Let's look at it from another angle - does society have the right to stop people having children? There are plenty of people out there that I'd hate to see breed - but?!
David Spayne, England
It used to be "I would like", then it changed to "I want", now it's "I have a right to". Why can't we accept that some things are simply not meant to be?
I am sick to death of this issue and the way it's bringing out the worst in people! Doesn't anyone think how those poor women must feel with the world's eyes on them, when they only wanted a child to love and bring up happily?
Only in America...
I wonder how the child will feel when it's older, and learn that its parents deliberately forced this disability on it?
Surely the mark of any good parent is that they want what's best for their children. Deliberately choosing to have a disabled child to serve the selfish interests of the parents is reprehensible and rightly should be condemned. I fail to see how the child can benefit in anyway from being deaf.
This is so very wrong!
Disgusting, the child should be taken away from them and given to loving, caring parents.
I am married to a deaf woman and we recently had a beautiful girl who is 1. Sadly, no-one is really sure what caused my wife's deafness. But she is a strong, articulate and intelligent woman. She has faced the daily struggles of being deaf for 30 years but still copes like a "normal" person.
She cannot hear the subtle nuances of music, but is lucky enough to be able to have a certain amount of hearing.
We do not know yet whether our daughter's hearing is affected. But I live with my wife's anxiety as she does not want our daughter to face the daily struggles and prejudices of living with deafness.
Really, "should they be allowed to do it?" is the wrong question, because there is no practical way in which an arrangement like this can be forbidden or legislated against. It is faintly amusing to see people writing along the lines of "technology gone mad", and criticising the health workers who "must have been involved", as though this required any greater technology than a syringe, or even a tea-spoon - and as though it needed the slightest medical supervision.
Having said that, I think it is regrettable that the women felt so alienated from the hearing world that they wanted to do this. I see no reason why a hearing child (assuming they were able to conceive one) should not have been brought up by them at least as successfully as a deaf one.
That the attach on this child that resulted in its deafness happened before or after conception, or birth is irrelevant. What next, the blind blinding their children, just to make sure the job is done? I hope I never have the misfortune to come across such vile people.
I am significantly colour blind and so is my wife (yes contrary to popular believe women can be colour blind). Do I feel worried I will teach my children the wrong names for colours, do I feel my children may not learn to appreciate the beauty of Fall in New England?
I think deep down these parents know the answer to this one. It is only fear of the unknown that leads to them to seek a deaf child.
What will they do if their deaf child has Downe's syndrome or is blind or develops autism?
Let nature takes its course, they will be enriched by any child and feel a love that far outweighs any fears around coping with a hearing child.
Mr Harry Wentworth, Torquay, Devon, Devonshire, England
Personally I don't agree with what they have done, but I certainly don't agree that they should not have been 'allowed' to do it. How on earth can you stop a woman impregnating herself and who is going to do the allowing?
The situation seems to be that this child has been specially bred to be deaf - a very dangerous precedent and completely immoral.
What's wrong with wanting a baby to be just like you? You all can hear so naturally you all assume that those who can't are disabled and the same goes with deaf people; those who hear but are not able to sign are disabled. Black people want a black baby, Chinese people expect to give birth to a baby of Chinese appearance so why shouldn't deaf people desire a deaf baby?
I only hope that the child in question will understand the parents' decision in years to come.
Stunningly selfish. No more (or less) selfish than the entire concept of 'designer babies'.
It seems to me that this couple are using their child to make a point, although I'm not sure what that point is.
Perhaps they want to say that we are all equal, even if some of us are different. That is indeed an admirable sentiment (which I agree with completely), but let us not forget that if we can hear it is for a reason. Nature (through evolution) has provided us with hearing to help us live our lives and survive better. Now I agree that deaf people can have full lives (one of my favourite musicians, the percussionist Evelyn Glennie, is deaf) just as people with other disabilities can, but it will always be harder for them to do so. As a society we must do everything we can to make sure every one of us has the same opportunity despite the obstacles in our way (and yes, deafness IS an obstacle. no matter how good a lip reader you are you can only communicate with people in your field of view). Deliberately putting those obstacles in someone's way, without their consent, is a different matter and I really don't think society should accept that.
Another thing I should say also is that there is the world of difference between this case, where a man was chosen specifically because he was deaf, and cases where deaf couples meet and want their own child, knowing that that child could be born deaf.
Jamie Bessich, USA
So what? Men and women all over the world chose partners for an amazing variety of reasons, some trite and some serious. Why is all this criticism levelled at a woman who simply "chose" her mate like any other mother does? In my experience most parents try to mold their children into their own ideals - now that's really selfish! Long live choice.
I always felt sorry for people who were deaf and never heard music, listened to a babbling brook, the sea on the shore or a bird singing. But what sort of monsters having missed these wondrous things themselves, would wish to inflict the same misery on an unborn child.
I think it's fundamentally wrong to be able to select any attribute of a child before it is born, and this couple are deliberately courting controversy, which is indeed the action of the selfish. However, I am dismayed by the amount of people here who imply that a deaf person is inferior to someone who isn't, and that their life is worth less somehow.
Brendan Fernandes, UK
Why didn't they just have a child by any donor and then have it's hearing surgically removed whilst still a young baby? This is, in effect, the same concept. The people who are discriminating here are the couple, who assume that only by being the same as them will a child associate correctly. This view of a child "being part of our clan" is exclusionist and I worry for a child bought up to be "like US, not like THEM".
Conceiving a child with "a family friend" requires no dreadful "engineering" or perverted medical assistance - it's simple birds and bees. There are many congenitally deaf individuals and couples who are more likely to have deaf offspring than the average. Are we suggesting we should prevent these people from breeding?? Or anybody else who has an increased chance of passing on a disability or medical condition to their offspring? And why should this couple be any more obliged to adopt a child than anybody else? They wanted a child - they found what they considered a suitable male - they got some sperm - they had a child. It happens thousands of times a day. Hardly exciting enough to warrant this hysteria. Bring out the smelling salts!
I recall hearing that the parents wanted a child "just like them". Perhaps they should realise that they are creating a human being and not a doll, and that this human being will one day grow up and leave them, and want to live his own life independently of them. Their motives are very self-serving and I hope the child does not grow up to resent them.
Another example of what Einstein referred to as, "...our technology outstripping our humanity..."
The fact that we are having this debate shows that we are still exploring the ethical implications of our abilities. That should be enough to convince us to err on this side of the status quo.
Reproduction is not a right: legal responsibility is not ownership.
I think that all "normal" parents always want a normal child for the same reasons that a deaf couple might want a deaf child. Most people think about themselves when having a child anyway so why throw stones at those who are just like you.
Please do not knock them but understand their reasoning. They are able to offer a better life to a child that cannot hear than to a child that can hear. They can offer heightened communication and this is essential. They probably did not want to inflict a speech impediment on a hearing child. So although I can comprehend why you all think this is vile genetic engineering: before you have lived with a disability do not judge.
It is really not so bad.
This is nothing short of abuse. If a perfectly healthy baby was born and deliberately made deaf, someone would end up in jail. If these people were capable of the true love of parents, they would accept whatever baby they where given, regardless of any hearing ability. One day, they're going to have to justify this to the child. I hope he takes them to court.
This is the most vivid example of supreme arrogant, smug, selfishness. These women have no right to try and make a statement about themselves through a child. People condemn those mothers/parents who enter their kids in pageants, force their lack of achievement on their children by getting the kids to live their life for them. At least those kids have a choice on whether to get out. This is an abomination. How is this child going to feel when it knows these "parents" inflicted a deliberate disability?
To answer to Craig (Scotland) what I find completely selfish is the way some people choose to talk about children! I myself can not have any children but I would rather raise any child that is considered by some commentators like you as ''handicapped'', than live under the impression that ONLY ''normal'' children should be given a fair chance in life! Congratulations to the brave couple!
I was very disturbed to read this story. One of the biggest fears any expectant parents could have is the well being of their unborn child, so to actually go out your way to maximise the chances of your child being deaf beggars belief. Unfortunately this child will have to suffer the consequences of his parents' selfishness for the rest of his life. This child may be happy enough in the confines of his home but what about when he starts to make a life for himself?
This shows the danger of "designer babies": the fact that parents see the child as an extension of their private egotism. Usually it means they abort imperfect babies, but now we see it means that some doctors are so unethical they will design a handicapped baby for the egotism of the so called mothers.
One remembers the story of Solomon, who decided that the REAL mother was the one who sought the welfare of the child over her own desires.
The child is better off with a parent that loves him or her, and one wishes a court to be Solomon and remove this child from his unloving mothers.
People are sensitive and sensory beings, to take away that which links us our environment, the environment which will shape the course of our lives, is to take away that child's ability to grow and learn and love as would another. The choice to deprive their child of hearing is that of a barbaric selfishness by the two women. They have their reasons, many of which I may not be able to fully comprehend or sympathise with, yet this is an act of severe ignorance.
Although I am surprised and disappointed that anybody seeking to be a parent should want their child to have a disability, there isn't a question of "should have been allowed". Just because Miss Duchesneau is deaf does not mean she does not have the right to become pregnant. As far as I can tell from your brief article, she did not become pregnant by any artificial means and, therefore, has not 'done' anything wrong apart from wanting to conceive a baby with a disability. If we start saying that people with disabilities can be denied the right to have children, then that opens up a much bigger uglier can of worms.
I really don't see how people can complain about this. Cloning and the bespoke creation of humans on demand is a well accepted goal. How can we then complain when humans are treated as manufactured commodities? After all, when one orders a car, there are a range of options to choose from; why should ordering a human be any different?
I could not believe it when I read of this selfish act. How can this couple call themselves parents? No parent in their right mind would willingly enforce a disability on an innocent child but that is what this couple have done. If they wanted a deaf child why not adopt one of the many deaf children that are in care and in need of loving homes? It's sick, that's all I can say.
Victoria Parkinson-Shanley, UK
I think they should be prosecuted. If you caused another human being that you met on the street to be permanently disabled you would expect to be punished by the law. Effectively that is what has been done here. These two have gone out of their way to create a human being with a disability with no thought for that child's feelings. They should be prosecuted for cruelty.
It is very touching to see so many people worry about a 'slightly deaf' baby who is in good hands and fine otherwise, but not about the thousands of babies that have been killed in Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine, by US and its allies! What a noble world indeed.
Isn't this some kind of absurd eugenics in reverse?
It's one thing to be prepared to accept that a baby is deaf due to circumstances beyond anyone's control. However, to deliberately contrive to ensure that a baby is born deaf just because its parents are deaf seems to me to be nothing less than spiteful. What about the human rights that everyone is supposed to have now? Doesn't the baby have the right to the normal random chance of deafness, instead of having the condition forced upon it? I just hope that, when this child grows old enough to understand what has been done, it follows American tradition to the full and sues its parents for all the money they have.
Keith Millar, UK
No, absolutely not! How can a couple deny a child's right to hear, how selfish and thoughtless.
While I can't say that I totally understand why they have deliberately decided to have a deaf child, I don't see how it's anyone else's problem or business but their own. Choosing to have a child with a 'negative' feature is exactly the same as choosing to have a child with a 'positive' feature, such nice hair or eye colour. Being deaf does not make the child any less of a person - only prejudice allows that to happen. Good luck to the parents, I say.
People like me try to be tolerant when it comes to sexuality, but couples like these constantly erode my tolerance. When the child is older he/she ought to take his/her so called parents to the court of human rights and have them prosecuted. I am appalled!
Of course they shouldn't be allowed to request a disabled baby. Most parents desperately hope for a healthy, able-bodied baby, this is an abomination!
Although I think there is something innately cruel and selfish about choosing a donor who will produce a deaf child, where do we draw the line between this and the donor who is congenitally deaf having his own children, knowing full well that they will be deaf too?
Yes they should. Are we saying that deaf people have no place on this Earth? Their wish was to have a baby and whether it was deaf, blind, blue, black it really shouldn't matter. Are we saying that people with hereditary problems should not be allowed to continue a family chain and have children of their own?
This child is never going to thank the women for having been born deaf. I wonder how they are going to explain the rationale behind it to a child? Deafness is still a disability no matter how you look at it: a human child is supposed to have proper hearing. This couple have decided that to them a 'normal' child is deaf. I can the point these women are making but they are making it in the expense of an individual who has had no choice in this matter. Again, I ask, how are they going to explain to this person that the deafness was deliberate?
Dave Moose, UK
I find it very odd that anyone would deliberately seek to give birth to a child whose chances of disability they have artificially enhanced. It makes one question the morality of this couple that they would go to such lengths presumably for rather selfish reasons.
It's wrong! No question about it. People wishing to become parents should not be allowed to pick their baby like they were in a supermarket. I'll have a girl with blue eyes, brown hair and deaf, please!
It's a human life we are talking about here. Why should anyone be given the right to deliberately chose to have a baby with a disability?
I think it all comes down to the question "is it right to create a deaf person on purpose or is this cruel?" I guess that the child will sue its parents later in life for being created with a disability.
Surely the best people to judge the extent to which a disability will affect a life are those who themselves have that disability. As a hearing person I feel that a deaf person misses out on a lot but then if they could never hear it in the first place they probably don't actually miss it.
Phil George, UK
Of all of the shallow, selfish acts, this has to be the worst.
If they can bring up a child in a happy environment, then fine. Though how a child brought up by these people with such stipulations can be brought up without any prejudice is something I'd like to know. I cannot help feeling that this is largely motivated by a desire to challenge society rather than entirely to meet the human instinct to bring up a child. As more and more once held taboos no longer shock, some try to confer recognition on themselves by trying to upset for the sake of it.
No they absolutely should not have been allowed to create a deaf child. They say that they would make better parents to a deaf child because they'd be able to guide them; why then don't they adopt a deaf child?
The idea of deliberately creating a disabled child is absolutely abhorrent, and in my view is no better than people cross-breeding dogs or cats to create deliberately disabled offspring.
I think the majority of deaf people and lesbians will be shocked at this act of politically correct stupidity. The child should be taken into care immediately as its parents are obviously completely unsuitable for the task ahead. I consider myself fairly unshockable, I'm old enough and experienced enough to have heard about and seem most things. This however has staggered even me!
Louise, Manchester, England
Oh my God! I cannot believe that this couple would intentionally deny a human being the sense of hearing, just so it can 'relate' to a culture.
Both of these women are Mental Health Specialists, does this not tell us something?
On the face of it, it would make more sense for a deaf couple (of whatever sexual persuasion) to want a hearing child, who, when older, would be able to help them to, for example, hear fire alarms and ringing telephones. But would the world also condemn them if that were the case - how dare they be so selfish as to create a child who who be, in effect, their servant? I'm not sure that this instance is as clear cut as would initially seem to be the case.
I am just shocked that any parent would willingly want to deprive their child of any of their faculties. Do they truly believe that it was in the best interest of the child? To me it just sounds incredibly self centred and selfish on their part. It strongly brings into question how much parents should be allowed to determine about their unborn children through artificial means.
This story makes me extremely angry; I cannot believe somebody would be so selfish and irresponsible to put their own selfish desires above their child's interests, which makes them extremely bad parents. That is probably why the clinics refused them.
I find their selfish behaviour sickening beyond belief, because it is the strongest case in favour of eugenic that exists
It seems that too many people in modern society are so obsessed with their 'rights' they forget about 'responsibilities'.
You can imagine the strain on a family caused by a 'disability' by trying to put yourself in their place. I have a very good friend of mine who is deaf practically from birth, but is however from a family of fully hearing ability. Throughout her youth she attended one-on-one speech therapy classes and learnt to read lips to near perfection yet at the age of 18 she was still having difficulty accepting her deafness. She went to her local, performed theatre as though she wasn't deaf at all, and even got a better grade in French a-level than me.
Since then she went to university where she went on a deaf studies course and met a lot of people in the same boat as her. She told me it was as if her life had changed. She finally learnt sign language and was able to reflect on her 'disability'. Finally accepting her deafness saw a major change in her attitude. No more hearing aids, relying entirely on lip reading and facial expressions, a huge boost in confidence and a more mature and less aggressive perception on life. Instead of saying "I wish I wasn't deaf", now its if "If I could get my hearing back I wouldn't".
While I see the ethical and practical reasons for having a hearing child in a deaf family (emergencies, translation, intervention, etc) don't forget about the worst enemy of all in society - Exclusion.
Fraser Heath, Aberdeen, UK
This is typical example of the selfishness that seems to be spreading throughout the human race.
It is an 'I want this and I will have this and I do not care about the consequences or what anyone thinks about it or what distress and suffering I cause to anyone else' attitude.
If gays want to live their life style that is entirely up to them. By having children, this couple are imposing their lifestyle and their disabilities on the totally innocent. This goes beyond reasonably acceptable behaviour. Laws should be passed to prevent this kind of child abuse (for that is what this is) from ever happening again.
No, they should not be allowed to go ahead with their selfish wish. They should be mental health patients, not mental health therapists! There is not excuse or defence for their actions that would convince a sane person.
Amazing comments from Rosa in Spain. This has nothing to do with the couple being lesbians, for God's sake. Imagine that your parents were deaf Rosa and fixed it before your birth so that you were deaf too. Would be happy with that? Please think before making such thoughtless "right on" comments. The couple should be locked up - I never imagined in my darkest nightmares that something like this could be done legally. There needs to be some legislation pushed through immediately to stop this happening again. What about the medical staff who must have had a hand in this? A disgusting episode all-round.
Who are ''we'' to criticise some peoples' choices concerning their life?
Good heavens, is this finally the medieval times we are re-living or what? As long as there is no crime in it, people should be allowed to do exactly as they please. Is it perhaps the fact that we are talking about a couple of lesbians, that seems to bother some of you more? I'm sure Voltaire would have laughed at all of us... Are we still talking about a 21st century society? Ha!
While having a disabled baby isn't a bad thing, surely we should not allow people to deliberately have a disabled child. Where was the thought for the welfare of the child?
Absolutely not. These people must know how difficult life is going to be growing up with a disability. What kind of life is this going to be for the child? There has been no consideration for the child's welfare here at all.
To most broad minded people, this baby engineering will be deemed sick. It is the right of the parents (biological or adoptive) to bring up a child in their style and belief. However, the baby in this case has an enforced disability without choice. The deaf parents could have brought up the child in a deaf household with their primary communication method being sign language. It seems the parents in this case are selfish at best and merely attention seeking at worse.
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