Cochlear Implant Surgery and the Controversy Surrounding It

by Sage Herr | 9 July 2021

Getting cochlear implant surgery is controversial in the Deaf community. However, it might seem to outsiders as a confusing and one-sided debate. Why would a Deaf or hard of hearing person not want to be fully hearing? Wouldn’t the choice to get a hearing device be an open and shut, easy decision? Well, to someone who is not deaf, who has lived their whole life being able to hear, the thought of not having this ability seems insanely scary. The thought of a cochlear implant, that, in the mind of the general, uneducated public, makes Deaf people able to hear perfectly, would be a saving technology. However, to many in the Deaf community, being Deaf is a source of great pride, with a large community and an important culture that comes with it. These implants seem to some like a slap in the face, a “medical cure” to deafness. Some deaf activists believe that cochlear implants should not exist.

On the other hand, others believe that it is up to each person and family, and that choosing to get the surgery or to not get it are both acceptable. However, spreading the correct information about cochlear implants is important, and not having people outside the community believe that these implants are a “cure for deafness.” In fact, cochlear implants are not at all perfect hearing devices. They can help with hearing sounds, such as doorbells or alarms, but the success of hearing voices clearly does vary, and the level of hearing is certainly not the same as a fully hearing person. It also can take years for the brain to adapt. Additionally, there are a lot of negative side effects of the surgery. These include nerve damage, tinnitus, meningitis, infection, dizziness, and bleeding. When people first get these implants in, they can often be afraid, as there is suddenly a sensory overload that they are not used to.

So, this is why many in the Deaf community dislike the “Child Hearing Parents Speak for the First Time” or “Wife Hears Husband for First Time” videos that popped up on YouTube in the late 2000s. These videos can spread an incorrect and dangerous message about the implants, their effectiveness, and the experience of people who first get them in. It glamorizes this important time, and this surgery, for the people who know nothing about it, which is most of the general public. If someone watched one of these experiences, they might view the implants as a perfect solution for deafness, which is a dangerous mindset to have.

In conclusion, cochlear implant surgery is a complicated issue in the Deaf community. To some, it symbolizes doctors and medical staff trying to “fix” and “cure” deafness. This mindset is a huge problem, obviously. However, to others, the surgery is one option, one with many pros and cons, and one that some people want and others choose to do without. However, that misinformation about this important surgery is harmful is something everyone can agree on.


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