Medical Emancipation & Other Issues (essay inspired by My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult)

Posted February 28, 2016 in Essay / 1 Comment


This essay will be my thoughts and opinions on certain concepts presented in Jodi Picoult’s My Sister’s Keeper. These issues include one similar to that of “designer babies,” medical emancipation, and how far the human right to life goes. I understand these issues are controversial. You do not have to keep reading if you do not wish to. I expect all debate over this to be polite, considerate, and calm. Thank you!10917

So I just finished reading My Sister’s Keeper, and it’s funny because it reminded me so exactly of an issue we just covered in my Contemporary Moral Issues class in school. We’re discussing abortion (how fun) and one of the women who wrote about it, philosopher Judith Thomson, has a famous analogy to the issue involving a violinist. It goes like this: One day you wake up in a hospital. You’re hooked up to a man in the bed next to you. This man is a famous violinist and he’s got some sort of disease. His fan club knew you were the only one who had the blood type he needed, so they kidnapped you and hooked you up to him. If you stay hooked up for 9 months, he’ll be saved and you can go home. If you don’t, he’ll die. You’re his last hope.

Her point was that you’re not morally obligated to stay hooked up to him. It would be nice of you, but you don’t have to stay hooked up. Just so long as you don’t turn around and strangle him after you unhook yourself. He’s just…collateral damage, I suppose. His death wouldn’t be a direct thing; it would simply be an indirect consequence. A consequence of not being hooked up to someone with his blood type. Of course, this analogy only applies to pregnancy by rape. But it sounds an awful lot like what Anna went through.

Anna never had a choice in the matter. She was created for the purpose of being a donor to her sister Kate. As honorable as that may be, I think it made it more difficult for her mother to see her as her own person. She wasn’t, you know, locked up and only taken out when her sister needed her body parts; her mother still tried to do some things for her, but it always factored around Kate and whether or not she would be able to still donate to her. Sara (her mother) always assumed that Anna would always want to donate in order to keep her sister alive—they could force her if they wanted, but Anna was never really very vocal about her reluctance. Anyway, the similarity to the analogy: Anna was created with the same genes that Kate had, on purpose, so that she would be the best possible donor. No one else in the family had those genes, and accepting platelets or kidneys from outside the family might have been considerably more dangerous. It boiled down to this: Anna would have to give Kate a kidney, or Kate would die.

The thing is, Kate was going to die anyway. She had defied the odds, surviving so long. It wasn’t even a sure thing that the kidney would save her. Many doubted it would. View Spoiler » So it would be a risk to Anna, and even if it went through, Kate would still probably die, just a little later. But Sara was willing to try anything to keep Kate for as long as she could, including using Anna for the purpose she was born—body part donation.

I have huge issues with the reason for Anna’s creation. The issue of designer babies is a different issue, one I have no real problem with (I did a research paper on this a few years back), but this is a little different. Sure, they selected her genes, but not to make her the ultimate perfect daughter. Just the perfect donor. I think that’s the real problem. They’re not having a child to have a child and let her be her own person. She has a purpose: so they can use her to give away bits of herself. Even if it is to her sister. She would just give and give and give until there was nothing left. And still Kate would die. They’d be left with one delinquent child (Jesse) and one shell of a girl (Anna), if she survived at all. I wouldn’t want that. But Sara was too blinded by her fear of losing Kate.

I don’t believe someone should have a child just to benefit another, even to keep her alive longer. Nature has decreed that your child will suffer. You can fight it with medicine. But you can’t force another being into existence to be a living organ donor. Basically a medical slave. (Especially if she doesn’t have medical emancipation and you make the decisions for her.) The rights to life for the both of them should be equal. One shouldn’t have to give up some of her right to life (parts of her body, the risks of each operation, every instance she might want to live her life outside of Kate’s reach) so the other can maintain theirs longer. Sure it would be awfully nice, but you shouldn’t bring a child into existence and force that burden on her. Congratulations, Anna, you’ve been born. Now you can serve your only purpose in life and donate yourself to your sister or she will die. That doesn’t give her much of a choice, does it? So much for her being her own person. She really is a slave. Especially knowing that Kate would probably die anyway. Here, Anna, have potentially life-threatening major invasive surgery on the off chance that your sister might accept your kidney and potentially live a couple more years. And as Anna actually said, what happens when her (single) kidney starts failing as she gets older? Who’s gonna give her one then? Not Kate. Even if she were alive, she probably wouldn’t be healthy enough to. It’s a mess.

I mean, sure you can sit there and think, Anna’s healthy, she can certainly afford to give up platelets and bone marrow and even a kidney. Kate needs those things to live. It’s not nearly as dangerous for Anna to give them as it is for Kate to not get them. It’s not Kate’s fault she’s got cancer. Well, it’s not Anna’s fault her sister’s got cancer. She didn’t choose to come in the world and be Kate’s medical savior her entire life. Yes, they’re sisters. Yes, they’re best friends, and Anna would be devastated without Kate. All the same, the point is, that’s Anna’s choice to make. That’s the whole point of the book (up to a certain point which I won’t be discussing). Medical emancipation. The freedom to make her own medical decisions. Yes, no one can force her to give up a kidney, but when you bring her into the world so her sister won’t die, that’s not much of a choice. Kate’s life is in her hands, and even then probably not for long.

Another ridiculous point in the book was when the psychologist was blabbing about how Kate’s death would affect Anna and how Anna was too young to make her own decisions because her brain wasn’t fully-formed yet. How she could only focus on immediate consequences instead of long-term things. That was probably the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard in my entire life. She’s thirteen. She’s not a two-year-old. She knows what she wants to be when she grows up, even if it keeps changing. She can picture how she’d like to live when she’s older. She can picture a life without Kate. It’s such a blatant falsehood. It’s not even close to a real reason why Anna shouldn’t make her own medical decisions. Hell, she’s been to the hospital with Kate enough times. She knows life and death and the hell that lies between. I think she’s educated enough to make some pretty reasonable decisions. She has to be wise about life because her sister’s has been dependent on her since birth. It’s quite a load on her shoulders.

Of course, if you’ve read the book…View Spoiler »

Well, those are just my thoughts on it. Of course, it was a little different from the violin analogy—my main problem was the fact that Anna’s very existence was so she could save her sister. That was the purpose for which she was created, quite literally.

The issues I will not be discussing today are abortion and euthanasia. Maybe another time.

So what are your thoughts on this? Have you read the book? What did you think? (Also talk to me about the ending. Satisfying? Disappointing?)

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1 Comment on "Medical Emancipation & Other Issues (essay inspired by My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult)"

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Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction
I haven’t read this book (so I avoided your spoilers), but I would have to agree with you that it would be horrible for parents to have another child simply for the purposes of saving an older child. As a mom, though, I could imagine how tempting it would be. If my daughter was going to die and I knew there was a way I might be able to save her… it would be difficult to avoid that temptation, and I’m sure there would be all sorts of lies I would tell myself about why it wasn’t such a horrible thing to do. Would I do it? I don’t think so, but I’ve never been in that particular situation, so I don’t know if I could judge someone who did – someone who was just so desperate to save someone she loved. I’ll have to read the book to see… Read more »