March 14 at 08:00
A professor from Gallaudet University in Washington DC USA has suggested that curing deaf people threatens the community with “cultural genocide” because sign languages will cease to flourish. Gallaudet is the leading University for Deaf and hard of hearing people in the United States which conducts world-renowned research into visual learning, neuroscience and hearing loss.
Teresa Blankmeyer Burke, an associate professor at the university, who is also the first signing deaf woman in the world to receive a doctorate of philosophy, wrote an article warning that deaf people who take part in research aimed at eliminating or curing deafness are aiding “a form of cultural genocide.” “The argument goes like this,” professor Burke wrote. “The use of gene therapy to cure hereditary deafness would result in smaller numbers of deaf children. This, in turn, would reduce the critical mass of signing deaf people needed for a flourishing community, ultimately resulting in the demise of the community.” She insists that “this claim is often dismissed as a hyperbolic category mistake” because researchers looking for ways to treat deafness isn’t “synonymous with supporting discrimination against signing deaf people.”
According to her, however, the “hearing community” is biased, as the “advantages” of being deaf “are not always obvious” to the members of the hearing community. “The majority of deaf children are born to hearing parents in families that have taken up the values and norms of a society constructed for hearing people,” she continued. “Most of these deaf children are not given a choice about whether to pursue their bimodal and bilingual birthright—that choice is made for them by their culturally hearing parents.” She adds: “This bias of hearing culture can be seen in the normative claim that it is better to be a member of the dominant, mainstream hearing cultural community than to be a member of the non-dominant deaf cultural community.”
The academic then criticizes gene therapy to eliminate deafness because deaf children who receive gene therapy lose the option of joining the deaf community. “It is important to consider the potential impact of identity loss on children born with hereditary deafness whose deafness is to be cured by gene therapy,” Burke says in conclusion.