The Hearing Aid Ethics Inquisition – Conclusion
My past several blog postings have been focused on the hurdles that the first audiologists working for hearing aid manufacturers were faced with, especially as they related to the Ethical Practice Board of the American Speech and Hearing Association (ASHA). This post provides the conclusion to this phase of what I have called the “Inquisition,” at least as it related to me. However, future blogs will describe other ways that this early group of audiologists (I used that term because they all had audiology degrees, even though ASHA stripped most of them of membership and refused them certification) pioneered the presence of audiology at the manufacturing level to the point that these are now accepted and sought-after positions.
In my last blog on this topic, I had been requested to provide substantial information about my activities at the hearing aid manufacturing company I worked for (Telex) to Dr. Kenneth O. Johnson, Executive Secretary of ASHA to show that I was not in violation of the Code of Ethics. Interestingly, during that meeting, I was instructed on additional practices I could not be engaged in, even though they were not in the Code of Ethics.
I eventually sent a letter to Dr. Johnson, with a cc to the Head of the Ethical Practice Board (EPB) of ASHA, which is not what he requested, making certain to explain that these materials were being sent because Dr. Johnson said that he was acting on behalf of the EPB, which had specifically asked him to do this. I complied with those requests that were general in nature, but when it came to names of contacts and topics of discussion, my listings were very minimal (I had not been in the industry that long) and mostly included respected and well-known ASHA members. Materials that I felt were inappropriate to report on were omitted.
Dr. Johnson then took the information I had sent him and prepared a separate report to the EPB, which he sent me and asked for corrections, of which I made quite a few. In May 1974, almost two years after I started employment with Telex, I received the following letter from the Chairman of the Ethical Practice Board, which seemed to correlate with new Guidelines for audiologists dispensing hearing aids (which I was not doing):
Dear Doctor Staab:
As you know, the Ethical Practice Board has been studying the issue of those of our members who are employed by commercial firms for some time. The Board has looked at this issue most carefully, and in your specific case finds that your performance is within the spirit and letter of the Code of Ethics. However, there is a continuing concern of this Board that certain of your activities may fall in a relatively gray area, which seems to bring this whole issue back into question. We recognize the difficulty of your monitoring constantly your activities so that they are unquestionably within the spirit and letter of the Code of Ethics; however we feel that those of you employed by commercial firms have a strong obligation to carefully review your activities so that those of you who wish to continue to work for such firms in exclusively an educational, scientific or consultative nature will not be brought into question. Charles D. Parker, Ph.D., Chairman, Ethical Practice Board
After this, I never heard from the EPB again. I believe the reason for this is because ASHA had a more pressing problems. Audiology members were raising legitimate questions about the role of audiology in hearing aid dispensing and this issue became a major battleground defining the future role of audiology. As we know, audiologists are a major participant in selling hearing aids today, an activity that was finally allowed by the professional organization (ASHA) that fought hard to disallow this practice.
What is unfortunate and shameful is that my discredited audiology colleagues in the industry at that time were not reinstated as members in good standing after the dust had settled. Jim Curran did mention that he was asked by Gene Del Polito of ASHA to rejoin sometime in 1979 after audiologists were allowed to sell hearing aids, but when told that he would have to pay dues for at least the past 10 years, Jim told him “no thanks.” In reality, Jim, and the other early audiologists discredited by ASHA had made their significant contributions to the hearing aid industry and had established themselves as real forces of change and acceptance to everyone involved with hearing aids, and no longer needed an organization’s “acceptance.”
Were all of the people involved investigating ethical practices functioning out of malice? I doubt it. I think all were trying to do what they thought was the best thing for the group(s) they represented. So, how did audiologists finally end up being able to sell hearing aids? A future blog will describe the events that led to this decision.
(Next Blog – or at least one of the future blogs: Audiology and the Selling of Hearing Aids)