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July 5, 2009

‘Keeper’ raises human-rights questions

By Sister Helena Burns, FSP


My Sister’s Keeper,” the muchloved story by novelist Jodi Picoult, is now a movie. It looks death straight in the eye and comes up blank. As it should. The film’s conclusion is that we don’t know much about death or the afterlife, but we do know about love.

In this story, a very determined mother is impregnated with a daughter who is specifically designed by medical science to be compatible “spare parts” for her sick older daughter who has leukemia. When she reaches age 11, the younger daughter sues for control over her own body.

Sound like creepy science fiction? It’s not at all portrayed that way. As these technologies become commonplace (Think Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick’s twins, recently carried and birthed by a surrogate mother; Octomom; the widespread use of in-vitro fertilization, sperm and egg “donation”; frozen embryos), emotional, homey narratives will accompany these decisions, choices and actions, and thus, these stories will become just “normal.”

As is well known, the Catholic Church sees the above-mentioned “solutions” as disrespectful of human dignity. Anything that treats human beings as objects, things, products, tools, “rights,” possessions, etc., is not in keeping with that dignity. (Certain technologies to aid fertility are approved, as long as it’s within the context of the nuptial act, aiding the natural process. Contrary to popular belief, the church wants you to have sex, and is very back-to-nature, crunchy granola in it’s thoughts.)

“My Sister’s Keeper” is really a bioethical drama, but I’ve never heard anyone put it in that context, which is kind of scary in itself. It’s also a legal drama. What are the little girl’s rights, if any? While watching the film, one is acutely aware that this is simply the state of the question and problem for now. Things are only going to get weirder.

The conclusion-twist, although altogether a probability, clever, generous and heroic, felt like a bit of a cop out. Why not follow the real question through to the end? Actually, we know families already have had children for the therapeutic purpose of healing another child. What are the rights of these too-young-to-speakfor- themselves-de-facto donors? Should this ever be done?

The USCCB Office for Film & Broadcasting classification is O, morally offensive.

Burns, who ministers in Chicago, has a philosophy/theology degree from St. John’s University, N.Y., and studied screenwriting at the University of California- Los Angeles.