An Exploration of Moral Dilemmas in "My Sister's Keeper"

Categories: PhilosophySister

"My Sister's Keeper" is a poignant film that delves into the complexities of love, sacrifice, and the moral dilemmas surrounding life and death decisions. Directed by Nick Cassavetes, the story revolves around a family faced with the challenges of dealing with a life-threatening illness and the ethical choices they must make. This essay will explore the moral dilemmas presented in the film, including the controversy of stem cell research, the age at which children can make life-altering decisions, and the concept of euthanasia.

The Stem Cell Controversy

In "My Sister's Keeper," the ethical debate surrounding stem cell research takes center stage. Stem cell research is defined by Wikipedia as "the ethical debate primarily concerning the creation, treatment, and destruction of human embryos incident to research involving embryonic stem cells" [1]. In the context of the film, the creation of human embryos was done naturally by the parents, motivated by their desire to save the life of their older daughter, Kate, who is suffering from leukemia.

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Anna, the younger sister played by Abigail Breslin, is born into a family filled with love and the hope of using her as a source of compatible organ and tissue donations for Kate. From the moment Anna is born, she undergoes numerous painful surgeries to provide life-saving support to her sister. These surgeries, while justified as necessary to save Kate's life, raise moral questions about the extent to which one can use another person, even their own child, for medical purposes.

As Kate grows older, she develops her own voice and desires regarding her life and treatment.

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She begins to express her feelings about the decisions made for her without her consent, feeling ignored and powerless. Kate's struggles bring forth the ethical dilemma of when children should be allowed to make significant, life-altering choices for themselves.

The Age of Autonomy

The film raises the critical question of at what age children should be deemed mature and responsible enough to make decisions about their own bodies and lives. At just eleven years old, Anna decides to take legal action against her parents, expressing her desire to sue them for control over her own body. This decision sparks a contentious debate about whether she is old enough to comprehend the implications of such actions.

Anna's determination to assert her rights, despite her age, leads the audience to ponder the complexity of this issue. The film invites us to question the boundaries of parental authority and individual autonomy, particularly in life-and-death situations. The attorney, played by Alec Baldwin, delves into Anna's medical history, making it clear that the situation has gone too far. What initially appeared to be a miraculous act of love now raises concerns of potential harm and ethical boundaries.

However, the film later reveals that it is not Anna who seeks independence, but her sister Kate. At fifteen, Kate has spent a significant portion of her life in and out of surgeries, witnessing the emotional toll it takes on her family. She becomes determined to regain control over her own medical decisions, which her parents have been making on her behalf as well as for Anna. The question of autonomy and the right to make choices regarding one's body becomes even more complex when considering Kate's perspective.

Euthanasia and the Right to Choose

One of the most profound moral dilemmas in "My Sister's Keeper" is the concept of euthanasia or the right to choose when one's life should end. Kate, facing a life filled with pain and medical interventions, persuades her younger sister, Anna, to stop agreeing to further surgeries aimed at prolonging her life. To many, including their mother, Sara, played by Cameron Diaz, this refusal to continue life-prolonging treatments is seen as a form of suicide.

The film delicately explores the fine line between choosing to end one's life and refusing further medical assistance to prolong it. This gray area challenges the traditional notions of suicide and poses difficult ethical questions. It forces viewers to confront their own beliefs about the right to make decisions about one's own life, especially when faced with relentless suffering.

The film does not offer easy answers to these moral dilemmas but instead presents them in a way that encourages contemplation and empathy. The audience is left to grapple with the complexities of these issues, acknowledging that there are no one-size-fits-all solutions.

The Impact of Choices on Loved Ones

Throughout "My Sister's Keeper," the film underscores the profound impact that choices, particularly life-and-death decisions, have on loved ones. Sara, the mother, emerges as a character who struggles deeply with the idea of loss. Her journey is marked by the difficult decisions she must make to ensure the well-being of her children. Her emotional turmoil and determination to do what she believes is best for her family add layers of complexity to the film's ethical exploration.

While the characters wrestle with their choices, the film ultimately offers a glimpse of hope and healing. Although Kate's life is tragically cut short, her spirit seems to live on in the newfound resilience and unity of her family. This suggests that there can be a sense of peace when suffering finally comes to an end.


"My Sister's Keeper" is a thought-provoking film that navigates the intricate web of moral dilemmas surrounding life, death, and the autonomy of individuals, particularly children. Stem cell research, the age at which children can make life-altering decisions, and the concept of euthanasia are all explored through the lens of a loving family's extraordinary journey.

While the film does not offer definitive answers to these moral questions, it encourages viewers to engage in thoughtful reflection and consider the complexities of each situation. "My Sister's Keeper" reminds us that ethical dilemmas are not black and white, and the choices we make can have a profound impact on our loved ones.

Updated: Nov 06, 2023
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An Exploration of Moral Dilemmas in "My Sister's Keeper". (2016, Apr 24). Retrieved from

An Exploration of Moral Dilemmas in "My Sister's Keeper" essay
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