Second Place, 2018 Howard C. Schwab Memorial Essay

Lessons from My Sister’s Keeper: A Minor’s Right to Refuse Lifesaving Treatment

Stephanie S. O’Loughlin

“Do you think it would work?” I asked. “A kidney transplant?”

Kate looked at me. “It might.”

She leaned over, her hand on the light switch. “Don’t do it,” she repeated, and it wasn’t until I heard her a second time that I understood what she was really saying.

—Jodi Picoult, My Sister’s Keeper1


Jodi Picoult’s My Sister’s Keeper is a novel that explores the difficult topic of the terminal illness of a sixteen-year-old girl and the lengths her family goes through in order to preserve her life. Much of the literature written on this novel focuses on Anna, the sister who was born in order to become a donor for her sister, Kate, and the ethics of forcing such donations from a child.2 Anna hires a lawyer to sue her parents for the “rights to [her] own body” so that she cannot be forced to donate a kidney to her sister.3 While Anna is providing testimony in court, however, it is revealed that Kate had appealed to Anna and asked her to let her die.4 This revelation not only transforms Anna’s seemingly selfish act but also raises two important questions: What lengths must a minor go through in order to die with dignity, and when is it possible for a minor to refuse lifesaving treatment?

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