Deaf genetics

William Bains william at wbains.u-net.com
Sat Oct 31 08:31:08 EST 1998


In article <36382BCB.1696DC03 at ic.ac.uk>, lucy hall
<matthew.toghill at ic.ac.uk> wrote:

> Hello,
> 
> I would like to ask the opinion of anyone on this newsgroup about a
> question I am researching for a degree in deaf studies.  Given that many
> deaf people regard themselves as a linguistic and social minority rather
> than a disabled group what would be the opinion of anyone on this
> newsgroup about the recent advances in isolating a deaf gene so that it
> can be irradicated.  Any replys would be very welcome.
> 
>                                 thanks
> 
>                                 Lucy

There are at least three issues here

i) What is known about the nature of the causes of deafness, and is it
likely that a small number of genes contribute to it (or, more accurately,
that the differences between the alleles of a small number of genes in the
population under consideration is a substantial contributor to the
differences in the ability to hear in those same people)?

ii) Is is likely that, if you could find such genes, you could then use
that information medically, for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment or cure?

iii) For any of the four interventions above, would people with hearing
disabilities want them, for themselves (when they have embraced a life as
a deaf person, and might resent being turned into a 'mundane'), their
children (when?), for their unborn fetuses (this might include abortion)?
If therapy were possible, would it turn societies' from thinking about
'people who were deaf' to thinking about 'deaf people', and thence to
'people who were sick with deafness'?  

In practice, a major cause of loss of hearing in the late 20th century is
ambiant noise, especially heavy industrial machinery and music systems in
clubs. I suspect 'genes for deafness' could turn out to be ones for
shyness, ham-fistedness with power-tools, or any one of dozens of other
sorts of 'genetic causes'. Not too helpful to people who are deaf.

William Bains



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