It all begins with a bruise: a little clover-shaped bruise. While bathing her two-year-old daughter, Sarah finds a trail of little brown bruises running down Kate’s spine. Sarah and her husband Brian follow the trail to an oncologist, and from then on, Kate’s childhood becomes a whirlwind of specialist appointments, emergency surgeries, and nauseating chemo-therapy sessions. Her parents face a mountain of medical bills, pools of blood, and a devastating diagnosis. How far are they willing to go to save their little girl? The answer brought them a little engineered miracle. Anna, the youngest of the Fitzgerald children, is designed to be a perfect genetic match for her sick sister Kate. Anna had been Kate’s supply for bone marrow and blood transfusions since infancy, and is now being asked for something more: her kidney. After 13 years of being an involuntary donor, Anna seeks to obtain control over her own body, even at the expense of her sister’s life.
The kaleidoscope of shifting perspectives in the book My Sister’s Keeper offers a unique, though sometimes confusing, range of perspectives in an already-complicated situation. The same heart-wrenching story—told in seven different voices—paints a vivid picture of the disease that affected the whole family.
Seeking medical emancipation from her parents, Anna employs legal aid from the best lawyer in town (the best lawyer, other than Anna’s mother). Sarah is astounded by the lawsuit that her teenage daughter files against her and her husband. While Brian tries to keep up with shift work at the Fire Station, the rest of his time is consumed by trying to put out the rhetorical fires that rage in his home. His oldest child Jesse is a bootlegging, pyro-practising rebel; Kate is sick and tired of being sick all the time; and Anna has had enough of feeling like a human blood bag.
My Sister’s Keeper is charged with the ugly, raw tensions of a struggling family. The controversial circumstances surrounding Anna’s artificial conception is delicately weaved into the story, forcing the reader to re-consider the ethics of creating one human life as a means to save another. Since Anna was created specifically to provide life-saving transplants and transfusions for her sister, was she being coerced and taken advantage of? Now that she’s old enough to know the risks of major surgery, does she have the right to refuse? After all, Anna would likely never have come into existence if it weren’t for her sister’s leukemia. The two sisters owe one another their lives.
Pro-lifers are often asked whether women have a responsibility to give up her womb to sustain the life of her child. How does the womb differ from a kidney? Well, if Anna refused to give up her kidney, her sister Kate would die from kidney failure. Anna isn’t directly or intentionally killing her sister. If a woman were to electively refuse her baby the safety and sustenance of her womb, the baby would not only be cut off from her life support, but would also be cut to pieces in the process. It’s the difference between not being able to save someone who’s drowning, and holding their head underwater.
With unexpected twists in the plot, My Sister’s Keeper is a bold piece of literature that wheels its readers through the struggles of a sick young girl and her family. The dialogue and narrative have some coarse language and a lot of what I would call “hospital gore:” bloodshed, to heal. I recommend that you try to stomach the graphic descriptions and course through the relationships between the characters. It’s not the prettiest of novels, but it speaks deep truths about life, family, and selfless love.
Republished with permission from the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform.