Journal of Bioethical Inquiry

, Volume 14, Issue 1, pp 109–121 | Cite as

Saving Deaf Children? Screening for Hearing loss as a Public-interest Case

  • Sigrid BosteelsEmail author
  • Michel Vandenbroeck
  • Geert Van Hove
Original Research


New-born screening programs for congenital disorders and chronic disease are expanding worldwide and children “at risk” are identified by nationwide tracking systems at the earliest possible stage. These practices are never neutral and raise important social and ethical questions. An emergent concern is that a reflexive professionalism should interrogate the ever earlier interference in children’s lives. The Flemish community of Belgium was among the first to generalize the screening for hearing loss in young children and is an interesting case to study the public justification of early interventions for families with deaf children. This article uses a critical lens to study the archive of the government child healthcare organization in Flanders in order to uncover underlying constructions of childhood, deafness, and preventive health. We focus on two interrelated themes. The first is the notion of exclusion of the human factor through the mediation of technology. The second is the idea of deafness as endangering a healthy development, an impairment that can nevertheless be treated if detected early enough. It is argued that, since deafness cannot be viewed as a life-threatening condition, the public interest which is implicitly defended is not the rescue of deaf children rather the exclusion of otherness.


Newborn screening Childhood deafness Early intervention Health technology Medicalization of childhood 


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Copyright information

© Journal of Bioethical Inquiry Pty Ltd. 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sigrid Bosteels
    • 1
    Email author
  • Michel Vandenbroeck
    • 2
  • Geert Van Hove
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Social Work and Social PedagogyHowest University College/Ghent UniversityBruggeBelgium
  2. 2.Department of Social Work and Social PedagogyGhent UniversityGentBelgium
  3. 3.Department of Special Needs EducationGhent UniversityGentBelgium

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