Family Loyalty and Medical Ethics

by John Downey '23 on April 8, 2022
A&E Co-Editor

Arts & Entertainment

Family Loyalty and Medical Ethics

A Review of My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult

Tully Mahoney ’23

My Sister’s Keeper, by Jodi Picoult, is an all-consuming, heart-wrenching novel about Kate, a girl diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia at two years old, and her sister Anna, who was born to be Kate’s organ donor. The girls’ parents were told that having a family member serve as Kate’s bone marrow donor would give her the best chance at beating the leukemia, but neither they nor Kate’s brother are matches, so they are left hopeless until Anna is born as a perfect genetic match. 

By age 13, Anna has undergone countless surgeries, transfusions, and shots. Now, her parents are requesting that she give Kate her kidney. Anna questions who she is without Kate and if she means anything more to her family than being her sister’s lifeline; she figures she must draw the line at some point or she will continue to undergo such difficulties, so she meets with a lawyer to defend her body against her parents.

The novel is told from seven perspectives, giving a well-rounded view of the ethical debate that emerges at its center: Anna; Campbell, Anna’s lawyer; Sara, Anna’s mother; Brian, Anna’s father; Jesse, Anna’s brother; Julia, Anna’s guardian ad litem—which means someone appointed to act in a lawsuit on behalf of someone who cannot represent themselves, like a child; and Kate. These characters and their perspectives raise the questions of what it means to be a good parent, a good sister, and a good person as the debate of if it is morally correct to infringe on Anna’s rights to save Kate unfolds. Although this debate may appear to have a clear right answer—that Anna has the right over her own body—readers will find themselves empathizing with her parents’ point of view.

My Sister’s Keeper suffers from an unnecessary side plot following Campbell and Julia. Essentially, without giving away any spoilers, they were high school lovers whose extraordinarily different backgrounds led them to break up. When they are both assigned to Anna’s case, they feel an underlying awkwardness from what was left unsaid so many years ago.

As for its triumphs, the novel does a great job at artfully approaching a divisive real-life topic. Reading it in 2022, with genetic modification now possible, the story forces readers to consider how they would act in a situation that forced them to choose between family loyalty and medical ethics. Also, although the novel is told from several perspectives, which may appear overwhelming at first, it progresses elegantly and with a clear, full picture.

That being said, My Sister’s Keeper deserves 3.5/5 stars. Notably, there is a movie adaptation of this novel, but it makes significant changes to the book’s plot, which may leave readers rather disappointed. However, it is nevertheless a quality film that highlights the controversial ethical issues that drive the novel.