The designer deaf baby thing

Lots of sources report on the story of Sharon Duchesneau and Candace McCullough, the lesbian couple who selected to have a deaf child. (e.g. Guardian,Washington Post). Commentary varies. There is the expected mainstream and “family values” (e.g. Family Research Council) condemnation. I thought I might find some references in support of the couple’s action, but at time of writing Google hasn’t thrown any up.

An interesting viewpoint that neither condemns nor supports but expresses empathy with the desire of deaf parents to have a deaf child is put by Sharon Ridgeway, herself a deaf woman who with her deaf husband has given birth to a deaf baby. Her perspective is:

I didn’t have any feelings that I wanted a hearing or deaf child – I just wanted my child to be healthy. I say that because, as part of the deaf community, I in no way see deafness as a disability, but rather as a way into a very rich culture. Which is one of the reasons I was delighted to learn when I gave birth that my baby was deaf.

and goes on to liken deafness and the need to use sign language to speaking a specific language that may not be understood when you go abroad.

Where do I sit on this? For me I think Jeanette Winterson (not known for her conservatism!) in How would we feel if blind women claimed the right to a blind baby? sums it up when she says:

I believe that hearing, like sight, is a blessing, and if we are prepared to use technology to breed children we have deliberately disabled, it is not only the language of disability that will have to be radically reworked, but our entire moral perspective. What this case suggests is that we can do what we like to our children, even if the consequences of our actions are irreversible. As lesbians, the two women should know something about choice and personal freedom. They both practise as mental health specialists, so I hope they have a colleague who will be able to talk it through with two kids who turn up in 20 years, explaining that their mothers decided that they had to be deaf.

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