My Sister's Keeper

For the past week, I have been completely lost in My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult. The book has been in my library for a couple of years - I remember hearing good things about it at the time, but the subject matter intimidated me. However, when I finished a book last week and was about to pick a new one, I felt in the mood to be challenged, to have a story make me think and so, it was time.

This is a story about Anna, a 13-year-old girl who is the ultimate in designer babies: she was conceived by in-vitro fertilization, selected because the embryo that became her, was the closest match to her sister, Kate, who at age 2 was diagnosed with a particularly nasty form of leukemia. A type of leukemia that at the time reduced Kate's life expectancy to another nine months to three years. The first time Anna saved her sister’s life was immediately after birth, when she donated cord blood. Since then, Anna has saved Kate's life every couple of years, undergoing increasingly more invasive procedures and now, Kate needs one of her kidneys. However, Anna doesn't want to donate a kidney and files a suit of medical emancipation from her parents.

This story is told from the point of view of several people: the girls’ father and mother, their brother, Anna's lawyer and the guardian ad litem appointed by the courts to assess the case. It a bit "movie of the week" and could have benefited from some tightening here and there. As well, I would've liked the book to have been even more ambivalent, creating a situation in which the answer to this particular dilemma faced by this particular family wasn't quite so clear - it makes it easier to choose one side over the other (when I'm being pushed to really think, I like to be pushed). However, this is not something I notice while I'm reading. While I'm reading, I am completely absorbed in the story, arguing with the characters, worrying about them, frequently weeping. I'm almost finished and still don't know what I would do in that situation.

The moral part of me, the part that has strong ethical beliefs in people's right to self-determination, find the idea of conceiving a child for the specific purposes of donating parts of their body to a sibling abhorrent. I know that were it my sister who needed something, anything, the only question I would have would be "when and where?". But I am an adult, fully capable of making an informed decision, having free will to do so. Not a child, a child who isn't asked in any way that allows them to space to say no. That's my head speaking, the part that ruled by principles and rights. When I look into my heart and ask the question there, trying to imagine what it would be like to be those parents, I understand. For a child, for your baby, you will do anything, won’t you? Anything, no matter what, to save them, to give them even one more day of life and if that means that one of your children undergoes a procedure that has no lasting effects - donating blood or bone marrow - and thereby gives your other child possibly several more years of life, then I am not sure I would be able to stay on my high, principled horse. And so I see-saw between the two - theoretical, thank various divinities - positions, between weighing costs and benefits, trying to decide the question Picoult asks in the foreword: if you have a child to save the life of another child, does that make you a good mother or a very bad one?

What do you think? Does thinking about this made your brain and your heart hurt?

I fervently hope that none of you are in a similar situation - my intent is not to hurt someone by asking this question. I'm hoping for someone to say something which will help me decide, but knowing full well that no matter what you say in the abstract, you never know what you'll do until you're faced with the situation. May none of you ever have to do that.