Deaf mom gets the 'no' she wants
By Theresa D. Mcclellan, The
Grand Rapids Press, Saturday, October
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The judge who ruled against forcing two deaf boys to get
cochlear implants said Friday she believes the devices would
help them -- but it's not up to her to decide.
Kent County Circuit Judge Kathleen Feeney said Michigan law is
clear that parents, not the courts, have the final say on
whether to seek surgery that could allow their deaf children
After impassioned protests by advocates for the deaf and
arguments from four lawyers during five days of testimony,
Feeney took 10 minutes to decide the 3- and 4-year-old sons of
Lee Larsen will not be forced to undergo surgery. But she said
she has been mulling the issue since the start of the hearing.
"The court has no doubt it would be in their best interest to
have implants," Feeney said in explaining her decision.
But, she said, "the court has paid close attention to (the
mother's) adamant right to decide and not to participate in
after-care" if the devices are implanted against her will.
Feeney noted the law is clear that courts cannot intervene in
parents' medical decisions involving their children unless
there is an emergency, and the implants would not qualify as
Outside Feeney's chambers, Larsen's supporters jumped up and
down, pummeled backs and talked excitedly in American Sign
Language. Some cried.
"She fought this, she fought this and won. She is our hero,"
said a teary-eyed Nancy Gingery-Merchant of Wyoming.
Larsen's sons were put in foster care after authorities
alleged she was negligent because she left them with a friend
for a week and left the state, with no way to be reached.
The children were enrolled in the Oral Deaf program at Shawnee
School in Grand Rapids, which emphasizes speech, hearing and
listening but does not teach sign language. Since thechildren
are profoundly deaf, they had no success at the school, and
officials suggested implants.
Once they became temporary wards of the court, Joe Tevlin,
their court-appointed attorney, asked the court to order the
As it became clear the hearing would end in her favor, the
30-year-old Larsen, who lives in Wyoming, sat taller in her
chair and started to grin.
She left the courtroom surrounded by deaf well-wishers.
"Mine, they are mine," Larsen said of her children. "I knew I
should decide. I am so happy, just happy."
As a result of her ruling, the judge said she would halt an
order to have the children medically evaluated for implants.
She also suggested the children be enrolled in the total
communication program at the Northview School District, which
teaches American Sign Language.
While Feeney said evidence proved the implants would be
beneficial, "there is a concern (Larsen) would shun" the
children if they did receive them.
But Larsen said after the hearing: "I would never shun. They
are mine. I teach them."
While Tevlin tried to show the urgency of getting the surgery
done immediately -- saying cochlear implants show most promise
when children receive them at a young age -- the judge ruled
the situation did not constitute an emergency.
Larsen's attorney, David Gersch, savored the decision.
"This feels good," he said. "This was an exhilarating case
because there was so much interest and passion."
Advocates from the deaf community supplied the passion.
Nancy Bloch, president of the National Association for the
Deaf, was among those who rallied on Calder Plaza in a
downpour with students from suburban Detroit and Northview
"We're here to show what we can do. This isn't about implants,
this is about parents' rights," Bloch said in sign language as
an interpreter read her words into a microphone.
The rally included hearing and deaf students and adults, some
wearing cochlear implants, who waved their hands in the air to
show their agreement.
The case has brought national attention to deaf concerns. Even
within the courtroom, the common practice of sending the
overflow crowd into another room to watch proceedings on a
wide-screen monitor proved difficult, since there weren't
enough interpreters. Some interpreters in the audience had to
volunteer to accompany the overflow group.
Tensions seemed to ease when one deaf woman said: "They are
During her comments from the bench, Feeney addressed the deaf
who organized and rallied, saying their efforts showed how
much they care. She asked them to put their energy into the
foster care system and providing homes for deaf children.
Larsen, who was nodding her head throughout the ruling, said
she is looking forward to seeing her children, who remain in
She will learn in December if she will regain custody. Tevlin
said he will consider appealing.