Title: My Sister’s Keeper
Written by: Jodi Picoult
Published by: Atria Books (2004)
“They don’t really pay attention to me, except when they need my blood or something. I wouldn’t even be alive, if it wasn’t for Kate being sick.”
This book written in 2004 by Jodi Picoult illustrates the main character Anna suing her parents to seek for medical emancipation. A child suing her parents is controversial itself, but considering the fact that she has undergone countless surgeries for her leukemic sister Kate and providing stem cells or bone marrows whenever Kate needs them, it is then understandable. Moreover, the story behind Anna’s birth is also debatable, as she was born for a “specific purpose,” her genes modified so that her umbilical cord could be used to save her sister. However, she consequently went through thirteen years of countless surgeries, eventually leading her to start questioning her identity, as she did not seem to exist except in relation to her sister’s illness. Thus, was it ethically right for Anna to have been asked to donate parts of her own body repeatedly for thirteen years?
Anna’s demands from the start were that she gets to make all future medical decisions and that she not be forced to submit to medical treatments, which were not in her best interests or for her benefit. Throughout the trial, Anna’s parents made it sound like there were some process and choice involved. However, it turned out that Anna was merely being a guinea pig, donating parts of her body until Kate’s body accepted it. She was not getting anything out of this except an enormous responsibility for her sister’s well-being, while she may have been going through the risk of some medical complications. From the start of her birth, she did not have any bodily autonomy, as her body parts were used for experimentations. Seeing that this cycle would not have ended anytime soon, she was right to file for medical emancipation.
Another character that receives the spotlight in this book would be Anna’s mother, Sara Fitzgerald. Throughout the book, her decisions and actions have made us doubt whether she considered Anna’s well-being in the process, or solely made the decisions to prolong Kate’s life. The readers see that Sara’s choices were colored by issues concerning Kate’s health care, and can consequently question whether Sara loved both of her daughters equally, not favoring Kate over Anna. Subsequently, the readers can also question why Anna was brought into the world at all, if she were not to have any decisions over her own body and her life choices, and simply be treated as an object that can prolong her sister’s life.
Aside from Sara, the relationship that Kate and Anna had would be a point to concentrate on. It is obvious that Anna would not have been born if it was not for Kate being sick. This convinced Anna to continuously participate in these medical procedures, because she claims that “it is hard to remember who I am” without Kate. However, it turns out that Kate was the one encouraging Anna to seek for medical emancipation, because she was sick of the hospitals, the chemo, and the radiation. Anna knew that Kate was serious, because Kate had tried to kill herself before. Hence, Anna decides to help Kate, as she is the one providing what Kate needs. At the end of the novel, Anna is granted of her medical emancipation but gets involved in a car accident and dies, eventually donating her kidney to Kate.
My Sister’s Keeper deals with a series of sensitive topics that ranges from medical emancipation, bodily autonomy, and gene modification. It is controversial to have one’s bodily autonomy taken away from oneself from one’s own family member. It is also debatable to have one’s birth genetically planned out, so that s/he gets picked as the “perfect combination” to serve a specific purpose for not oneself, but for others. At the end of the novel, it was clear that the two daughters did care for each other. As to the question whether their mother favored one over the other would have to be left for the readers to decide for themselves.
Kim Hye Young