I READ THE PAPER every day. I'm affected by what's in its pages but
it's not every day that an article frightens me with its Orwellian
The New York Times reported late last year that scientists had
discovered a gene linked to deafness was prevalent among Ashkenazi
Jews. The more know about our DNA, the better, so in this regard,
it's good news.
This may offer an insight into one cause of deafness, although
scientists have cautioned that this development doesn't mean deafness
is more common in Jews than in other people. Ashkenazi Jews comprise
90 percent of the 6 million Jews in the United States, the article
stated. Of the general population, including Jews, roughly 1 person
in 1,000 is born deaf. Half of those born deaf have hereditary
Both my sister and I are profoundly deaf, yet there is no other
incidence of deafness in our family. Both of our parents are
Ashkenazi Jews, so it's possible that this is the cause of our
I'm always asked what caused my deafness, and the only answer I've
been able to give is, ``We think it's a recessive gene.'' Now, I
might be able to respond with some degree of certainty. In gaining
this bit of
knowledge, I am learning about my potential offspring's odds of being
Here's where the news gets ugly.
Although I'm deaf, I wouldn't wish it upon my child as some
members of the
deaf community do, nor would I use genetic testing to insure ``an
Being deaf isn't easy, but it doesn't make me any less of a
person. I want my child to have an easier life than mine, but I
wouldn't abort merely because the fetus doesn't have perfect hearing.
What does deafness hinder? Very little today, and with
technological improvements, the future only looks brighter.
If testing for genes like this one is used to screen out traits
deemed undesirable, our society will find itself on a slippery slope,
resulting in moral confusion and a homogeneous population. How
stifling. How dull.
The other consequence of this gene discovery is the potential for
discrimination in employment or health insurance against Ashkenazi
Jews. Instead of being proud of our ancestors, and reveling in what
our families have accomplished, we could suffer from a stigma of
being a Jew.
Funny. Linking a gene to deafness in Ashkenazi Jews might have a
two-fold result: it could be a jump to the future or a throwback to
the past. Or, more dispiriting, both.
Lisa A. Goldstein is journalism student at the University of California at Berkeley.