News: October 2002
“Deaf Kids Get Reprieve” by Jon C. Hall
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich — Citing a technicality, a Circuit Court judge on October 5 denied a request from the court–appointed lawyer to have controversial hearing aids surgically implanted in two deaf children over the objections of their mom, who temporarily lost custody last year.
But Judge Kathleen Feeney said she believed the surgery in “the best interests” of the children, and Feeney threatened that she would order the procedures if Lee Larsen, 30, permanently loses custody.
Michigan law requires that parents of children in foster care authorize such elective surgery unless custody rights have been permanently terminated. Larsen continues to do well in her program to regain custody, said her attorney, David Gersch, though he conceded the children remain at risk since Larsen’s case remains under Feeney’s jurisdiction.
“We’re not out of the woods yet,” said Gersch. Larsen and the boy’s father, Kelly Robinson, opposed the surgery as risky and not in keeping with their wishes that the children communicate by signing. Larsen cried when she heard the judge’s decision. Joseph Tevlin, the children’s attorney, said he was undecided whether to appeal Feeney’s order.
Tevlin’s request for the cochlear implants, small devices that change sound into electrical impulses sent to the brain, alarmed both the deaf and the general disabilities communities.
Activists were outraged at the suggestion that Larsen’s deaf children needed fixing, much less that a court would consider ordering it without Larsen’s agreement.
Representatives of the disabled further worried that the case could set off a rash of state or medical officials using temporary court wardships to overrule family decisions.
Feeney, for her part, seemed to make it clear that she would have done so had she had the authority.
Larsen’s case attracted national attention, including that of Nancy Bloch, the executive director of the National Association of the Deaf. Bloch attended the hearing, though she left prior to Feeney’s decision.Larsen lost custody of the children in September 2001 after a complaint by school officials about neglect. Feeney ordered the children into foster care and Larsen into a program with parenting classes aimed at helping her regain custody.
The, last April, Tevlin asked Feeney to order the implants, arguing the children needed them to do well in school.
Larsen countered that they should be in another school, and one that teaches American Sign Language, and that in any event it was her decision. “They are mine. It is my decision to make, not the court’s.”
For additional information, see the following:
Press Release from Claudia Lee of Deaf Community Advocacy Network and Celete Johnson of Grand Rapids, MI: download Press Release This source provides information from the perspective of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Community, plus links to related topics.
Michigan Protection and Advocacy Service, Inc. (MPAS) — Amicus Brief prepared by Calvin Luker, an attorney: download MPAS Amicus Brief
News stories and other pieces on the case. Click on ones of interest.
NAD News Release: “NAD Applauds Michigan Decision on Parental Rights” (10/9/02)
CNN—Wolf Blitzer and Elizabeth Cohen (scroll down to find segment)
(Note that comments are made throughout the show leading up to the story.)
Grand Rapids Press (10/4/02, noon report)
Grand Rapids Press (10/5/02 Court Decision)
http://www.boston.com/globe – Click “archives,” then search for “Kathleen Feeney.”
Grand Rapids Channel 8 WOOD–TV(10/4) NBC
Grand Rapids Channel 13 WZZM–TV (10/4) ABC
National Public Radio (10/3—All Things Considered)
American Association of People with Disabilities
National Coalition for Child Protection Reform