NEW POLL: should deaf couples be able to select deaf babies?

by Stephen Tall on April 14, 2008

A month ago, listeners to BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme heard a debate between presenter John Humphrys and deaf activist and parent Tomato Lichy. At issue was Mr Lichy’s passionate belief that deaf couples should be allowed to use embryo-screening technology to choose to have a deaf child – such a choice would become illegal under the proposed Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill – on the grounds that deafness should not be seen as a disability.

At the time, I remember thinking: there’s absolutely no way any sane government could be swayed by such an argument. If today’s Telegraph is to be believed, I was wrong:

… the Department of Health has agreed to cut from the Bill any reference to deafness as a serious medical condition. The move could pave the way for the Bill to be amended, when it passes through the Commons later this year, permitting a challenge over whether deafness should be classed as a serious medical condition for the purposes of the bill and allowing parents to pick an embryo, using IVF treatment, that will develop into a deaf child.

Over at The Times’s Comment Central, Daniel Finkelstein perfectly expresses my view:

The deaf groups argue that the Bill is discriminatory. Of course it is. It discriminates in favour of babies being able to hear. It discriminates against parents choosing to make their children deaf. Only in a world gone mad can such discrimination be regarded as a bad thing.

But are we being fair? Here’s how Mr Lichy defended his stance last month:

I don’t view deafness as a disability. I feel very positive about the language, about the culture and the history of deaf people, and I’m very involved in the deaf community. And also we already have one deaf child. Now if we say to her, at some point in the future, “We had a deaf embryo, but the government told us we couldn’t have that one”, how would she feel about it as a deaf person herself, if the government had forced us to do that?

This week’s opinion poll, therefore, asks the question: Should deaf couples be allowed to use embryo-screening technology to choose to have a deaf child?

It’s a simple Yes/No choice of answers, though feel free to use the comments thread to provide a more nuanced response.

Result of last poll

We asked: Assuming the Lib Dems’ Brian Paddick is your first choice, who would gain your second preference vote to become Mayor of London?

Here’s what LDV readers – who may or may not be representative of Lib Dem voters – said:

Ken Livingstone (Labour) – 146 (33%)
Boris Johnson (Tory) – 131 (30%)
Would not use 2nd preference – 108 (24%)
Sian Berry (Green) – 41 (9%)
AN Other candidate standing – 15 (3%) of all votes
Total Votes: 441. Poll ran: 7th-14th April 2008

Pretty close, then, between Ken and Boris on the basis of this LDV sample. It’s interesting to see how badly the Greens’ Sian Berry fared. This might be a reflection of the expectation that at least one of either Ken or Boris will make it through to the run-off, with voters wishing to use their vote for maximum influence. It might equally be a reaction to the Greens’ highly opportunistic decision to do a deal with the Labour party in return for Ken’s sloppy second preferences.