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Deafness, culture, and choice
  1. N Levy
  1. Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics, University of Melbourne, Parkville, Victoria 3010, Australia;

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    We should react to deaf parents who choose to have a deaf child with compassion not condemnation

    There has been a great deal of discussion during the past few years of the potential biotechnology offers to us to choose to have only perfect babies, and of the implications that might have, for instance for the disabled. What few people foresaw is that these same technologies could be deliberately used to ensure that children would be born with (what most people see as) disabilities. That this is a real possibility, and not merely the thought experiment of a philosopher, is brought home to us by the decision of an American lesbian couple to select a deaf sperm donor in order to maximise the chances that their children, Jehanne and Gauvin, would be deaf like them.1 Their choice has sparked controversy, not only among medical ethicists, but in the opinion pages of newspapers across the world. Ought parents be permitted to make such choices?

    If the parents of Jehanne and Gauvin have done anything wrong, it must consist in violating their child’s right to an open future—limiting its future potential for choice.2 But what does it mean to respect this right?

    From the moment a child is born, her parents are making choices for her, which will powerfully shape her future. They will decide what kind of education she will have, what religious experiences, from among what group she can select friends. Thereby, they profoundly mould the person she will be and the life she will have.

    When this activity is carried out within certain, ill-defined, limits, it is in no way objectionable. It is not merely a …

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