The Cult of the Holy Cochlear Implant

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(This article was written at January 2006.)

During the last few years, there have been advances in the technology of cochlear implants, with the following effects;

  • There are more and more testimonials of implanted people, who are getting a benefit from their cochlear implants (CIs), according to the criteria of ability of making an unassisted phone conversation.
  • More and more evidence surfaces about the unsatisfactory performance of early generation CIs.

The early years of CIs were saturated with evangelism, with claims that the phenomenon of deafness will disappear from the surface of the Earth thanks to the miracle of CI. It was proclaimed that the CI is The Salvation of the deaf everywhere and that the CI rendered obsolete and redundant the Deaf Culture and the Sign Languages. None of the evangelists considered the fact that some people do not have a functioning hearing center in their brain, had their auditory nerves removed, have totally damaged or missing inner ears, or have other medical reasons not to be able to benefit from CIs.

This evangelism happened even though the early CIs were single-electrode ones, which had no hope of helping most people understand speech by hearing alone.

People also were ashamed to admit that their CIs do not benefit them as fully as hearing aids benefit the hard of hearing. They faked it, or sidestepped the issue by emphasizing the importance of getting a sensation of environmental noises.

The problem with low expectations of the evangelists was that the manufacturers of CIs were not driven to improve their CIs.

The author remembers a discussion, during the early 1990's, with a physicist, who had a deaf son. The author (himself having a M.Sc. degree in physics) pointed out that implanting a deaf child makes it impossible to subject the child to MRI scans should such scans ever be needed. The physicist scoffed at this statement. Nowadays, there are CIs which allow their users to undergo MRI scans without damage, and CI manufacturers compete with each other over the maximum permissible magnetic field strength being used in MRI scans of their CI users.

Reports of implantees getting meningitis due to the implant and even dying from it were ignored. Only after those reports were publicized, vaccination against meningitis became a standard step in the procedure of CI implantations. The author remembers having E-mailed the father of an implanted acquaintance a copy of the relevant E-mail message and recommending him to get his daughter vaccinated.

Telltale Signs that it is a Cult

Consider a typical CI human-interest story, such as "Increasingly, Wired for Sound" by Ranit Mishori.

Such articles are what I'd like to term as "CI missionary articles". Tell-tale signs:

  • Helplessness of the heroine due to her lack of hearing (why did she not she equip herself with a signalling device to alert her to her son's shouts and cries?).
  • Crying from happiness when one hears for 1st time via the CI.
  • Extolling the wonder of daily non-speech sounds, like the microwave beep or the sound of passing cars.
  • Lack of emphasis on ability to resume speech-dependent activities. It was not mentioned whether the CI helped the heroine get back her social life.

What Should I Do?

If you want an high-quality and really helpful CI in your future, repeat with me:

CIs are WORTHLESS and are CORKS OF SHIT unless they provide their users with RELIABLE ability to clearly FOLLOW SPEECH. It does not matter how much of environmental noises they allow the user to hear.

It's the speech, stupid!

Last update date: 
2006 Jan 11