Canceris a ruthless and destructive illness. If a person had the ability to savesomeone with cancer but had to give up part of their life – would they? The simpleanswer is of course, but the more complicated answer lies with who makes thedecision. Picoult presents speaking for others as a way of fighting for controlin My Sister’s Keeper through the useof changing perspectives and symbolism.JodiPicul’s novel is about the Fitzgerald family. Sara and Brian are parents toJesse, Kate, and Anna.
Kate was diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia at theage of two. Neither parent is a match, nor did their oldest child, Jesse,match. When treatment was not working without the cells of a donor, Brian andSara Fitzgerald turned to genetic testing and in-vitro fertilization to have achild who is a match to be a donor for Kate. This leads to Anna’s conception,birth, and donation of blood, bone marrow, and other things to help treatKate’s cancer. This is problematic because Anna does not have a typicalchildhood and every decision made for Anna is in the best interest of Kate.Anna was unable to consent to these procedures because she was only five yearsold when she had to undergo a procedure for her sister. When her mother asksher to donate a kidney to Kate when she enters renal failure, Anna decides tosue her parents for medical emancipation.Theuse of multiple perspectives parallels the idea of speaking for others.
All ofthe major characters are heard from directly except for Kate. While theFitzgerald’s have made decisions on Anna’s behalf, they have all been inrelation to Kate. Any medical decisions for Kate have been made by someoneelse. Sara Fitzgerald is Kate’s biggest advocate which is good but alsoproblematic. She makes decisions for Kate based on her position as Kate’smother and not keeping Kate’s desires in mind. This shows that regardless ofwho is speaking for Anna – they all are speaking for Kate and making decisionson her behalf. She is not incapacitated – she has cancer.
Picoult is relaying agreater message about how cancer patients are treated. Sara Fitzgeralddiscusses Kate’s first love and how she cannot get Kate to agree to undergo aprocedure. Kate wants to see the boy she likes – and she cannot do that inreverse isolation (Picoult 312). While the hospital staff allows Kate to modifyher treatment it is a stressor for Sara because her daughter is putting herselfat risk by manipulating her treatment. When the object of Kate’s affection (whois also a cancer patient) dies, Sara cannot bring herself to tell Kate – forshe fears it will drive Kate to keep from fighting (Picoult 321). There is amanipulation of information to best protect what Sara thinks is her daughter’sbest interest. Sara allows herself to feel better before she gives Kate the badnews – this is a clear example of how speaking for others can be misconstruedas controlling others. Sara had the best intentions when withholdinginformation but she alienated herself from her daughter in the process.
Both Brian and Jesse Fitzgerald use fireas a tool for coping with the turmoil in their lives. Brian Fitzgerald is afirefighter and he controls fire for a living – but he cannot control Kate’sillness. For example when he finds out Jesse set a fire in a building and Brianmakes the decision to not tell the police he says “Maybe it’s becauseJesse isn’t all that different from me, choosing fire as his medium, needing toknow that he could command at least one uncontrollable thing (Picoult 331).Fire is important to this book because it is something that can be studied andcontrolled, but at the same time can kill people in the process. This is ametaphor for cancer and while it can be researched and studied people willstill die from it. The Fitzgerald men seek out fire as a way to maintaincontrol over something when it seems impossible in any other aspect of theirlives.
When a parent speaks for their child they have to make surethey do not cross the line between advocacy and controlling. She worked as alawyer before becoming a stay at home mom. Sara works tirelessly to keep herdaughter, Kate, alive. Through this, she fails to be a mother to Anna andJesse. Through speaking for others she does not focus on how she is impactingthe people around her. Throughout the novel Anna discloses how her conceptionwas driven by Kate’s illness and had Kate not been sick – Anna would not havebeen born. Anna knows that she has genes specific to donating cells and otherthings to her sister. Picoult brings attention to how this puts a strain onAnna’s relationship with her parents when Anna says “if your parents have youfor a reason, then that reason better exist.
Because once it’s gone, so areyou” (Picoult 8). Anna is grappling with more than teenage angst throughout thenovel, but the weight of her sister’s health. Sara and Brian Fitzgerald madedecisions about Anna and for Anna that she did not have the power to agree to.
This is an example of how Picoult presents parents stopping at no cost to keeptheir children alive. Picoult also reveals the nuances of these decisions andhow they can impact a family – and an individual in the long term. Picoult presents that seeking can control over one’s lifecan be a source of guilt.
Throughout the novel, Anna discloses her guilt in notwanting to donate anything else to her sister. This guilt is caused by herbeing manipulated by her family and her saving Kate is when she is the mostimportant. Picoult confirms this when Sara finds out about Anna suing formedical emancipation; “My sister’s in pain, and I’m relieved. What does that say about me?” (Picoult 52).
Annais conflicted in that she wants her sister to live but she does not want tocontinue making sacrifices for her. The main reason for the lawsuit is for Annato gain control over her body and with the need for control comes guilt. Laterin the novel, it is revealed that Kate requested that Anna sue for medicalemancipation as a way to end Kate’s suffering. This moment in this book iswhere speaking for others can allow individuals to have their voices heard.Picoult addresses this during the lawsuit when Judge DE Salvo asks Anna whatKate wanted her to do. Anna says, “She asked me to kill her” (Picoult 388).This part of the story highlights Anna and Kate’s relationship and how Katerelies on Anna to be her voice. Anna and Kate are incredibly close throughoutthe novel – Picoult highlights how these sisters love and rely on each other.
Thereis a distinct contrast between Sara’s relationships with each of her daughtersand between her daughters. Sara wants what is best for Kate and does not seemto consider the greater impact on Anna when she asks her for her kidney. Theimpact of not hearing from Kate directly until the end of the book is tellingof how body. There is irony in the fact that the book revolves around Kate,while Kate’s perspective is never heard Picoult displays this clearly when thetrial hits its pinnacle point and it is revealed why Anna initiated thelawsuit. Kate is not heard until the Epilogue of the novel and how her familyhas recovered following Anna’s death.
Kate discusses her own guilt regardingAnna’s death and how she feels responsible for what happened to her sister(Picoult 421). Anna died in a car accident the day after she got the verdictfrom her court case. Kate feels guilty because had she not had Anna sue herparents she would not have died in the car accident. This sentiment from Katemirrors the guilt Anna felt when she was filing her lawsuit against herparents. She did not want to donate her kidney but did not want Kate to die.Because Kate felt that her voice would not be heard by her mother she tookdrastic measures to stop her kidney transplant.
Kate had been sick most of herlife and wanted to stop having procedures. Anna and Kate are not different inhaving their parents make choices on their behalf and while it is not uncommonfor parents to make decisions for their children Anna and Kate are not typicalchildren. Picul’s book is one of fiction – but it draws attention tothe idea of exploitation.
G. Thomas Courser wrote in “The Cases of OliverSacks: The Ethics of Neuroanthropology” about how illness should not beexploited. While Kate is not exploited because of her illness – Anna is. Anna’sentire existence has relied on the fact her sister has cancer. Because of this,her body is being used as a harvesting site for her sister – regardless of theintentions, her parents had. The dictionary defines exploitation as “theaction or fact of treating someone unfairly in order to benefit from theirwork.” Kate is benefiting from Anna’s existence on a scale that is highlyunusual. Couser would find Anna’s conception to be problematic because theFitzgerald’s are creating a child for the sole purpose of saving the daughterthey already have.
While this action has good intentions it raises issues asthe child in question (Anna) gets older and realizes she truly does exist inrelation to her sister. Couser’s literary theory connects to Picoult’s work –not what Picoult does, but what she presents the characters doing and how it isproblematic. In Couser’s work, he suggests that “narrative closure”(Couser 10) is too neat.
It is not real life to have a happy ending every timeor for things to wrap up nicely. Picoult’s work would please Couser becausewhile Picoult depicts Anna winning the lawsuit and wraps up her narrative it isnot a perfect ending.Thereare several aspects of control that are examined in My Sister’s Keeper. First is the control that comes with speakingfor others. The second type of control is the control over one’s own body.
Annawas born to save her sister and for years she has not been the sole controllerof her body. This connects to the idea of cloning and the ethics of creatinghumans for the purpose of donating their organs. Cloning and donating organs issomething that is shown in popular culture and sci-fi movies. These movies dealwith the implications of what happens when individuals are aware that they arealive to be an organ farm.
The ethics of cloning are not mentioned in depth inPicoult’s piece which is one of the most problematic parts of Picoult’s piece.The ability to conceive a child to save another is a great task that is beingplaced on an unborn child’s shoulders. While one might want to live at allcosts – be it okay to sacrifice someone else’s life to continue living? Picoult’snovel is one that tackles the issues of speaking for others regardless ofwhether they can speak for themselves.
The ethics of speaking for others arecomplex and Picoult does not answer the ultimate question of who is right andwho is wrong. Speaking for others is presented as something that challengesethics and is greater than a scientific answer.