Opinion | Cochlear implants are a personal decision

With something as two-sided as cochlear implants, we should let deaf people make the decision of whether or not to get one on their own.


Ally Pronina

Ally Pronina, Opinions Columnist

In the debate over whether cochlear implants are a form of ableism or a life-changing medical device, we are overlooking that they are a personal choice and deaf people have the right to make their own decisions. As June is Deafblind Awareness Month, this is a timely topic.

There are valid reasons for both getting and not getting a cochlear implant, and we should let each individual person make the decision for himself or herself and respect it.

The University of Iowa has made several advancements in cochlear implants. Bruce Gantz, a longtime UI professor of otolaryngology and neurosurgery, was the first in the world to insert a cochlear implant using a robot.

While cochlear implants are often portrayed as a miracle for the Deaf community, many people choose not to get one because of their risks and challenges. Cochlear implants are not a “one-size-fits all,” and not everyone is eligible or recommended to receive one.

Another concern that cochlear implants have raised is erasing the rich language of the Deaf community, which is American Sign Language (ASL). Some deaf people who have spent their whole lives using ASL have gotten used to their unique way of life and don’t want to change anything. We should not force people to get cochlear implants simply for the sake of them being like everyone else. Cochlear implants can also have side effects — such as Meningitis.

Deafness also does not prevent someone from having a successful and happy life. Marlee Matlin is an award-winning actress who is Deaf and sees the disability as part of her identity. It’s not right to automatically assume someone has a worse quality of life just because they are deaf. Deafness being a part of one’s uniqueness is a beautiful sentiment, and it is not right to judge someone who sees it as a valid part of their identity.

We shouldn’t judge people who choose to get cochlear implants because they dream of hearing their parents say I love you. Having a cochlear implant does not prevent someone from communicating using sign language or learning about Deaf culture. Therefore, it’s possible to still be a part of the Deaf community with it.

There are also reasons why someone would choose to get an implant. While reasonable accommodations can be and are legally required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), not every situation can be accommodated. Again, we should not call people ableists because they choose to get a cochlear implant.

Many people who support cochlear implants do so because they believe it will be life-changing for the Deaf community. They don’t deny deaf people are still just as much human beings as everyone else. They don’t have hatred in their hearts for someone just for being deaf, and it’s not accurate to accuse everyone who supports cochlear implants of disregarding Deaf culture.

There are valid reasons for both getting and not getting a cochlear implant. We need to respect deaf people regardless of what decisions they make regarding it. Either way, deaf people are valuable human beings worthy of acceptance and love.

Columns reflect the opinions of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Editorial Board, The Daily Iowan, or other organizations in which the author may be involved.