We have the technology to create designer babies. Whether this is a desirable capability or the theme for a horror movie remains to be seen, but the ability exists to manipulate genes to result in certain predetermined outcomes.
In My Sister’s Keeper, Jodi Picoult creates a morally questionable scenario where little sister Anna Fitzgerald is conceived to provide the stem cells necessary to extend the life of older sister Kate, a victim of leukemia. Unfortunately, the stem cells turn out to be a stop gap measure and increasingly invasive procedures, such as the donation of bone marrow, are necessary to sustain her older sibling’s life. Their mother Sara is desperate enough to do anything to keep Kate alive, hoping each treatment will be the one to conquer the disease.
Anna truly loves her sister, but there’s a bit of resentment since her life revolves around Kate’s needs without any regards towards her own personal thoughts and desires. Now Kate needs a kidney and there is an expectation that Anna will once again step up to the plate – after all, isn’t that her “raison d’être”. For once, Anna would like some control over her own body. Being only thirteen who has the final say? When does a child get to say “no more” even when her parents say “let’s do it”?
Having an ill child requiring the majority of a parents’ attention can be wearing on all members of the family. Anna isn’t the only one who feels neglected, the oldest sibling, a brother Jesse, seems like a lost cause, acting out in rebellion, usually in antisocial ways. Siblings of families I know who have a child with very specific needs often have issues coping with life. Much of what Picoult describes rings true, yet there is quite a bit of over-the-top sensationalizing which is guaranteed to mess with ones emotions. This is one story that readily lended itself to a movie format where they added enough additional drama/trauma to hone the viewers emotions to a frenzy. (By the same title released in 2009 starring Cameron Diaz, Alec Baldwin and Joan Cusack.)
Picoult is an expert at developing her characters, including a secondary story line involving a lawyer and his former love interest. I especially enjoyed the special relationship Anna had with her fire fighting father Brian who was caught in the middle between his love for all the players in his family.
I remember a similar scenario when in-vitro fertilization was new where a mother had a “genetically altered” child specifically to be a donor to her first born who needed “parts”. I was a new mother at the time and was conflicted. Society was horrified, yet I couldn’t condemn this decision, especially since my mantra is: “There but for the grace of God go I”! Since then the use of fertilized eggs implanted in women who otherwise would be unable to have a child has been a godsend to so many, including my own daughter. I no longer have a negative viewpoint, but count my blessings on the miracles of science every time I hold my grandson.
Four and a half stars in spite of the tears I shed and an ending which felt like the rug was pulled out from under me. Even though I own a hard copy, I listened to this one performed by a large cast of characters: