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My Sister’s Keeper—Who Gets to Live?

My Sister’s Keeper,  a 2009 film based on the Jodi Picoult novel of the same name, and directed by Nick Cassavetes, is a  family saga. The film explores the harrowing decision involving a minor’s forced organ donation and the right to medical emancipation.  My Sister’s Keeper is the painful “Sophie’s Choice” of asking to choose just one of your treasured children’s lives.  What is a parent willing to do to save the life of a child with a bleak, painful future, and imminent death around the corner?

What about conceiving in vitro  a “designer child” with the genes for being a perpetual donor to save the life of her 15-year old sister, Kate,  who is suffering from leukemia?  Eleven-year old Anna Fitzgerald (Abigail Breslin of “Little Miss Sunshine” fame) is the test-tube baby who has suffered unimaginable pain and life-threatening procedures since infancy to keep alive her 15-year-old sister, Kate (Sofia Vassilieva)  When  neither  parent, Brian (Jason Patric) and former lawyer Sara (Cameron Diaz) , nor older brother Jesse are a  match, their family doctor recommends conceiving another child whose stem cells, blood, and organs could be the answer to keeping Kate alive. 

Beginning with harvesting stem cells from Anna’s umbilical cord shortly after birth to a series of pre-donation  procedures requiring hospitalization, forced restraints, and resulting infections and painkillers,  Anna finally can’t take it anymore.   The mother, Sara, is convinced that her values are not compromised while Anna is forced to compromise her own quality of life.  Brian, the father, is trapped in the middle–understanding both his wife’s and his younger daughter’s feelings yet beginning to empathize more with Anna and Kate’s dilemma.  

Anna approaches attorney Campbell Alexander (Alec Baldwin), a somewhat sleazy television-commercial type, to take her case:  suing for medical emancipation from her parents.  If she does not donate a kidney, her sister will die. Anna is conflicted since she is very close to her sister, but the pain and diminishing returns for her own life are increasing for her.  Everyone expects Anna to come forward once again, but instead of a consent form, Anna is suing them for the rights to her own body.

My Sister’s Keeper is seen primarily through the perspective of the sometimes defiant and wounded 11-year-old Anna and her completely unsympathetic mother who cannot let go.  The leukemia is the elephant in the room for the entire film and provides both the necessary specter of death that pervades the family’s every move but also is used to melodramatic excess.  The major dilemma is a “double-doom” –which daughter do you choose?  If you choose Kate, Anna will never have a life of her own.  If you choose Anna, Kate will certainly die.

For those who love Jodi Picoult, “My Sister’s Keeper”, is not the beloved equivalent of the novel, which deeply affected so many of its readers.  It does raise an alarming situation, however, and one all of us hope we never have to confront.

Definitely worth watching, with a superb cast, but do not compare it to the novel.

Availability: Netflix DVD

 

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