Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Right to Bodily Autonomy

Saw the movie "My Sister's Keeper" yesterday. Spoiler alert for those who haven't seen it yet. The movie is based on a novel by the same name. Though I haven't read the novel, I would like to believe that this is one of the rare cases where the movie deals with the subject better than the novel does. What follows is not a review of the film, but a moral debate pertaining the right to bodily autonomy.

"I wouldn't be alive if Kate wasn't sick I'm a designer baby. I was made in a dish to be spare parts for Kate".

Anna had no choice. From the age of 5, she is made to donate bone marrow to her luekemic sister Kate. To think that her parents, especially her mother, Sara agreed to the idea of synthesizing Anna to save Kate's life was beyond me. Perhaps, her obsession to protect Kate blinded her. She says in the movie that she is doing it because she stands up for her family and for Kate. But who stands for Anna is the real question. Is it morally acceptable to you to violate the right of bodily autonomy for a child for the sake of another. I don't think so.

The story raises this very question when Anna decides to legally demand for medical emancipation when asked to donate a kidney to Kate. Now, the thing with stories is that it would not be worth telling if it ended with Anna winning the case just like that. Just when Sara begins to comes off as the crazy irrational woman for fighting the case in court against Anna, it is told that Anna sued her parents only on insistence of Kate who herself wants to die.

This is where the movie departs from the novel's storyline in a major way. The novel says, according to wikipedia, that Anna wins the case and while returning from court, meets with an accident and damages her brain. Brain-dead, Anna's organs are donated to Kate who survives while Anna dies. However, a more realistic ending in my opinion, also the one shown in the movie, is about the family letting Kate go and life going on after that.

"Once upon a time I thought I was put on Earth to save my sister. And in the end, I couldn't do it. I realize now that wasn't the point. The point was, I had a sister."

The right to bodily autonomy is a major theme in the story plot. Besides violation of this right in Anna's case, Sara's obsession also results in the the violation of this very right in Kate's case (manifested in some sense as the right to let go of the treatment and die). Also, the lawyer who represents Anna is shown to be epilectic, which is also the reason why he agrees to represent Anna. In her own words:

"He knew what it was like to not have control over his own body."


Onshui said...

I've seen a similar situation, only in the reverse light. My uncle needed a kidney - my mother was more than willing - but advised not to, given very valid reasons.
However, what is pressing here is the repeated donations - a single instant, one does it out of goodwill even. But to be taken for granted, for parts of your own body, is not done at all.

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