Thursday, May 01, 2008

Cochlear Implant Manufacturer Facing Multi-Million Dollar Fine

As a quick search on this blog for the word deaf shows, I am a pretty vocal advocate of Deaf rights, and quite anti-cochlear implant for d/Deaf children. Because of the nature of the procedure, and its permanence, I do believe it's a choice that an autonomous agent should consent to rather than have pushed onto them. And this article from the LA Times just adds to that belief: the FDA wants to fine cochlear implant manufacturer Advanced Bionics $2.2 million for apparent manufacturing violations that actually put patients at risk for additional hearing loss, electrical shocks, and other issues. (Frankly, those two are enough, as far as I'm concerned.)

As for my other objections, they are relatively simple from a technological standpoint. Unless technology has rapidly changed in the last few years, one of the major drawbacks of cochlear implants is that they do destroy any residual hearing. This is why many doctors suggest only implanting one ear, in case a better technological or biological solution comes along later down the line. So you are wedded to the device implants, and that technological level, for the remainder of your life.

Stop and think about this for a minute. Go dig around in your junk drawer and take a look at your cell phone from three or four years ago. Or better yet, go find a computer from the 1980s.

How would you like to have that technology (in all it's now unsupported glory) embedded as a part of you that you are reliant upon for the remainder of your life, regardless of whether or not people continue to support that level of technology?

From a purely technological, I spent too long in the software industry, standpoint (and leaving out all notions of Deaf culture), it's simply a bad idea.

This Advanced Bionics lawsuit is just another in a long list of reasons cochlear implantation is a decision that should be made only by competent adult agents.
-Kelly Hills

1 comment:

Pete M. said...

I have a couple of thoughts about your argument. First, to reject a solution now because something better might come along isn't in general a good strategy. This is our present administration's approach to solving global warming, for example. This case is special, though, in part for reasons you point to. The big one you raise is that the implant destroys residual hearing. But there's another reason it's special: if children get the implant early, this has a profound impact on their speech ability.

Moreover, getting the implant impacts quality of life. It seems to me a reasonable solution is the normally recommended one: to get the implant in one ear, thus enabling the benefits of early adoption, while still leaving room for the possibility of having the other ear treated with future medical advancements. For that matter, these future medical advancements might include a way to reverse the implant procedure! I think we shouldn't count on either one, though, at the cost of the child's lack of development of speech ability. No, I think it is, given the evidence, especially important to give the implant to very young children (between 1 and 2 years old).

My second thought is that just because one company that manufacturers these devices failed to adequately evaluate a supplier of a component doesn't mean that the other two major manufacturers of cochlear implants are subject to the same criticism (these are Cochlear and Med-El corps.). I take the fact that Advanced Bionics was caught by the FDA as a good sign that the FDA is successfully performing their function (which I am, actually, a little surprised at given the anti-regulatory stance of the last 8 years of W). This may be reason to choose an implant from a different manufacturer, but I don't see how could it serve as a reason not to get one at all.