Dissecting the social and moral issues associated with genetic selection technology and vitro fertilization as depicted in the movie My Sister’s Keeper
The film My Sister’s Keeper, based on a 2004 bestselling novel by Jodi Picoult, presents an extreme example of in vitro fertilization and genetic selection technology to confront the moral and social issues with these reproductive tools. Anna, the story’s protagonist, is brought into the world as her “sister’s keeper,” for the express purpose of donating parts of her body to heal her cancer-plagued sister. While the author’s narrative is designed to reflect the moral dilemmas presented by the abuse of reproductive technologies, these issues can be analyzed even further from a Catholic perspective. Such a view on the abuse of technology that takes place in the film addresses not only legal rights to one’s body but also enters the realm of maintaining human dignity from the moment of conception.
In vitro fertilization itself is not directly challenged by the author or her characters. Nevertheless, the Catholic Church finds issue with the very practice of implanting an egg fertilized “in glass.” Anna was conceived outside her mother’s womb so that the sperm and ovum could be genetically manipulated. Removing these sex cells from the parents’ bodies before uniting them in a new life is problematic because it removes the intimacy of the marital act that is naturally designed to produce new life. A child is a gift and should come out of an intrinsically loving act of selflessness, not a synthetic scientific method. From the beginning, the method of Anna’s conception cannot be morally acceptable. Though not mentioned in the film, it is likely that several other zygotes were produced and subsequently discarded in the process of creating Anna’s zygote, or even implanted in the uterus and then aborted as embryos. These acts of killing that often accompany in vitro fertilization make it morally unacceptable in the eyes of the Church.
Anna’s parents also had the wrong focus in having a second child. They not only didn’t create Anna out of love but didn’t intend to do so either. The suggestion to make a second child by IVF came from the first child’s oncologist, who couldn’t guarantee matching biological material in time to save his patient. This seemed an attractive option to the concerned parents, and their focus on helping their child heal blinded them to any moral implication of creating a child for “spare parts.” Nevertheless, the reason for Anna’s conception was not in accordance with the Church’s definition for the purpose of life: to bring a marriage closer together. Anna’s dignity was not respected here, as she was not brought in as an individual but as a genetic match for her sister.
The method for selecting Anna’s traits is also morally questionable. Genetic testing may be warranted in cases of preventing severe disorders in the child at hand but not to ensure that the child is a match for a sibling. Anna was designed so her kidneys, bone marrow, blood and leukocytes would be perfect matches for transfer to her sister’s body. Traits were specifically selected from the genomes of her parents. This does not adequately serve the human dignity Anna deserves as an individual. Unadulterated, her new genome would have been a unique combination of traits that would have made her into a different person than the Anna designed to match her sister. Perhaps the physical altercations did not impact such factors as personality and disposition, but this certainly was not considered before the procedure was approved. Because Anna’s individuality was not considered from the moment her conception was proposed, her parents struggled to understand her right to be an individual long into her adolescence.
All of these moral factors are contingent upon the right to life and the right to dignity. Anna was brought into the world, but not in the natural, loving way God intended. Many of her rights were respected, but only those that her parents chose to respect. The movie takes mainly a secular standpoint in Anna’s fight for “legal emancipation” over her own body. Alec Baldwin defends her nobly and lives up to his 91% success rate, but true success would have been the recognition that it was also Anna’s human dignity that had been violated by her parents. While little legal basis currently exists to prevent in vitro fertilization or the genetic selection methods that they likely employed, the Church stands resolute in its assertion that Anna had the right to her own unique genome from the moment she was conceived.
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The film My Sister’s Keeper, based on a 2004 bestselling novel by Jodi Picoult, presents an extreme example of in vitro fertilization and genetic selection technology to confront the moral […]