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Lo-Fi Monk

Christian Ethics: Building Disabled Babies

Ethics class is heating up thanks to a real-time case study re: Gauvin Hughes McCullough. Gauvin Hughes McCullough is the son of a deaf lesbian couple (Sharon Duchesneau and Candace McCullough). The couple decided to purposely ‘build’ a deaf baby, by seeking out a sperm donor who was deaf too. It worked. The boy is severely deaf. Gauvin was diagnosed with “a profound hearing loss in his left ear and at least a severe hearing loss in his right ear,” according to the story. Deaf enough, I suppose.

8 Comments

  1. ck
    Posted November 17, 2006 at 9:10 am | Permalink

    What if it was a straight couple who were both deaf and decided to reproduce, knowing their child would be born deaf? Do you think the ethical case would be different?

  2. Shawn Anthony
    Posted November 17, 2006 at 9:20 am | Permalink

    Your exact question was asked in our class discussion. The answer was a resounding no (though a few unsuccessfully tried to argue for it). Also, this isn’t a case about a deaf couple who wanted to have a child which could - could - be born deaf. It is a case about a couple who ‘built’ a deaf baby, via premeditation. They did everything in their power to make the child deaf.

  3. ck
    Posted November 17, 2006 at 10:10 am | Permalink

    It’s an interesting question. I was thinking of a heterosexual couple who *intended* to make a deaf baby (understanding intent in the strongest way, such as having a battery of genetic tests, etc). As you say, it seems the same.

    There are definitely members of the deaf community who view being deaf as an identity. And it is a tough call when it comes to slippery slope arguments–intentionally making a blind child, a child with only three limbs, a child with Downs, a child with autism. Are there profound differences between these cases and, say, a child with blond hair? If we value people with these kinds of “deficiencies” then why wouldn’t we want to have them in our society? And how much of the deficiency is because of a biological understanding of what it is to be “human” and how much is societal? (In China, the focus would be on making boy babies…)

    If we can find the genetic component to homosexuality and could “manufacture” gay people, would it be an analogous situation? Some would argue that being gay is a deficiency. The situation is really difficult, and I haven’t read enough applied ethics (I’m doing metaethics now) to know where to start philosophically (though I have ideas). I should look at Ron Munsons’ Bioethics text–he has a chapter on genetic manipulation. I may have some more coherent thoughts.

  4. Shawn Anthony
    Posted November 17, 2006 at 10:19 am | Permalink

    The question sure charged our classroom, CK. It was a heavy conversation. I come down on the side of “a parent who wants his children to have a better start/life than I did,” regardless of where my own starting point was/is.

    My father is severely dyslexic. He also grew up with a severe speech impediment (which he beat early in his life). He has a very low grade reading level. He was seriously terrified that his own son would inherit his own disability (which he has no trouble at all identifying it as such). He literally lost sleep worrying about my inheriting it. I understand this completely. I can’t imagine my father tipping the odds in favor of my inheriting his dyslexia. It baffles the mind. It is not an act normally associated with parenthood. It is pseudo liberal social values made tangible in the worst sort of way - on another, who had no say in the matter what-so-ever.

    It is a seriously interesting case to discuss in a religious ethics class room.

  5. ck
    Posted November 17, 2006 at 10:26 am | Permalink

    Yeah, I guess (just to play devil’s advocate) the couple thought that the child would have a valuable life as a deaf person, and that this was the best for them. Parents also choose the religion their child will inherit (typically), at a time when they have no choice. (Trying to think of parallels which we accept as normative, for the sake of drawing out potential similarities/differences). I have some problems with deaf as an identity, but I haven’t worked it out rigorously yet, so I just continue to read. Challenging case study–thanks for bringing attention to it.

  6. Shawn
    Posted November 17, 2006 at 10:54 am | Permalink

    Yes, children typically inherit their religion but it is something they can choose to change at some point in their lives if they want too. Deafness is a bit more permanent. Also, the article says the couple passed on hearing aids for the baby. They do not want this baby to hear. The baby has no choice in the matter of being deaf, but he can, I suppose, override the wishes of the couple and put on hearing aids in the future.

    You also write, “I have some problems with deaf as an identity.”

    … as well as you should, given your context. Essentially, all identity is grouped with malfunctioning human purposes of the natural sort (in this case hearing), for good or for ill if “identity” is superimposed over something like being deaf. That is a different conversation, but I applaud you for being quick and wise enough to spot it immediately. I’m not sure I know of any person of color who would go easy into the night toward which you point.

    My dad, as dyslexic as he is, refuses to call disability his identity. If he did call it that, he would have an internal meltdown! After all, who in their right mind would want to call what they fought - and continue to fight - to overcome their whole life their “identity.” You would really be saying: “I have fought - and continue to fight - my very self.”

  7. ck
    Posted November 17, 2006 at 11:24 am | Permalink

    My paper for my ethics class is actually about the concept of self and how it influenes ethical decisions. Christine Korsgaard, who is a Kantian ethicist, argues that our ethical obligations arise out of the recognition of our (and other’s humanity). We have various ’selves’ (or roles) that co-exist with that recognition of humanity, and our ethical decisions are impacted by them. The selves can be in conflict, and that’s where the interesting stuff comes in.

    I’ll post it when it’s done (I’m just doing reading right now). I think it has something to say about this kind of a discussion. And, from my perspective, as one who doesn’t take divine command ethics as a starting point, it provides a framework that eschews relativism, but is founded in the facts of the world, in some way.

    Good discussion, thanks. I think that religious liberals and Christians can find some ground to converse, even if we have to agree that we’ll always disagree in some ways :)

  8. Shawn
    Posted November 17, 2006 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

    Right on, ck. We will have to agree that we will always disagree on a few important issues. It should not cost us a relationship though. If so, we both missed the point.

    That said, I think members of the religious left are just about as intolerant as those on the right. So, sometimes a word or two about that has to be said too. :)

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