Who Should Make The Choice?

Laura Mayhall was born profoundly deaf and was fitted with hearing aids in both ears when she was only seven months old. When a series of ear infections worsened the little residual hearing she had, an audiologist suggested the cochlear implant.

In 1984, Mayhall's parents decided to try the device designed for children, which at the time was still undergoing clinical trials in the United States. Mayhall, then seven, was accepted in a program at the House Ear Institute in California for a single-channel implant.

But Mayhall had trouble with her implant. The internal magnet that keeps the external microphone connected to the implant did not work well, and because of that, the headpiece was constantly falling off.

While attending the Portland State School for the Deaf, she felt ostracized by the other students, who mostly used hearing aids.

"From my experience, (the CI) affected me in my teen years because my friends and other people did not treat me as an equal. The reason for that was because I was different from them," Mayhall explains.

As a teenager, Mayhall chose to stop using her CI. Her parents honored her decision.

"I am not angry at my parents. I knew that they were trying their best to help me," she says.

Laura does not take a side in the debate, but instead encourages people to gather their information about CIs carefully.

"People should know that the cochlear implant is not for everyone. It can be successful for some people in the community, but it is each person's choice to make," Mayhall says.

Cecilia Grugan (left) with therapist Mary Koch.

She adds that, "I would maybe use it again in the future. But now is not the time."

From their own research on the topic, parents Pam and Scott Grugan feel that after a certain age, cochlear implants may not be beneficial to a child's language development, and that forcing an older child to get an implant is wrong.

But to Scott Grugan, both options are acceptable.

"If we had made the choice for Cecilia to be culturally deaf, that wouldn't have been a bad decision. It's a satisfactory decision, along with the cochlear implant. I think they're pathways that are quite different, but each have strong merits," Scott says.

Koch is sympathetic to the deaf culture's stance, but insists that CIs are "an opportunity, not a cure."

For Koch, the success of the technology that she sees "every single day" speaks louder than any argument.

"When we first hear their voices, it's like a flower opening."

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